As Paul reminds us in Romans:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36, ESV)We don't know the mind of God nor can we pretend to. However, God gives us other clues in Scripture that help us understand in part about why we suffer and helps us to be encouraged to continue to run the race of life.
Philippians 1:29 - "For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake." (ESV)
In Acts 14:22, Paul and the other apostles taught that "through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God." (ESV)
Romans 8:16-17 - "The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him." (ESV)
I Peter 4:12-13, 19 - "Suffering as a Christian Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (ESV)
I Peter 4:19 - "Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (ESV)
Job recognized the value of his suffering in his proclamation: “When he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”
When we suffer in this life, we join Christ in His suffering, and we become a reflection of God’s glory in the midst of it. Contrary to a popular line of thought today, being a Christian doesn’t mean having a life of ease and no troubles. Instead, it often means more troubles because that’s exactly what Jesus warned his disciples about during His earthly ministry. In Luke 9:23, Jesus said that if anyone wants to follow Him, he must pick up his cross and follow him. The cross definitely doesn’t represent ease or promise no troubles. Becoming a Christian also doesn’t mean we no longer suffer the effects of the fall. I like what Steve Estes says on page 59 of his book about what happened at the cross when Jesus said “It is finished” and what Jesus will finally do with His second coming: “ …the purchase of salvation was complete, the outcome settled with certainty. But the application of salvation to God’s people was anything but finished.”
As Paul reminds us several times, sanctification is a daily process and won’t be complete until we are united with Christ in heaven or at his return. God uses suffering to continue that work of sanctification in our lives.
Romans 5:3-5 - "Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." (ESV)
Psalm 119:67 - "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word." (ESV)
Psalm 119: 71 - "It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes." (ESV)
It’s the hardest times in my life that I feel the closest to God. I am a very self-sufficient and independent person, and if it weren't for the trials that were way beyond my ability to handle on my own, I wouldn't have been driven to my knees to rely completely on Christ to carry me the rest of the way. I wouldn't trade my close relationship with Christ as a result of my trials for an easier life.
Suffering also has a way of strengthening our hope and keeping our eyes focused on the goal of living with God for eternity. The suffering we experience hear reminds us of the day when God will wipe away every tear and there will be no more sickness and where we will no longer need to toil and sweat but spend our days worshiping at God Almighty’s feet. That hope can keep us keeping on no matter how hard things get.
Our trials will only last for a time but our life of peace and satisfaction is coming. Our suffering is just for a moment in eternity’s perspective.
As Jesus says in Luke 6:21b: “Blessed are those who weep now, for you will laugh” (NIV).
Yes, our day of laughter is coming! Another question may come to mind and one that even Joni asked: “Why does God pile on hardships so high?” (p. 121, Tada and Estes). Stay tuned for Part 5 for her answer and more.