When approaching the issue of suffering, if we are to benefit from suffering, we need to first think about what suffering actually is. I don't pretend or aim to have a full answer to that question, but I would suggest that there are two basic types of suffering: the physical and the spiritual, and that both these kinds of suffering are designed to accomplish common goals in our life (dealt with later in this post). One type of suffering is physical and it is usually pretty obvious. It can be sickness, injury, disease, pain, persecution and other such things. Then there is spiritual suffering, or "affliction". This can include depression, doubts, unrest, sorrow, etc.
One article on suffering I read described suffering in a way I found thought provoking and insightful: "It is a tool God uses to get our attention and to accomplish His purposes in our lives in a way that would never occur without the trial or irritation."
I personally like that definition and believe it is very much in line with Biblical teachings on suffering.
Suffering can be for disciplinary purposes. We know that God chastises those He loves (Hebrews 12:4-7) to purify them (Zechariah 13:8-9) and to bring them back to Him. We also know that what we sow will be reaped (Galatians 6:7-8). I make these points because as young Christians it's important that we understand this truth so we will know to examine ourselves (II Corinthians 13) in the face of suffering and not assume that our suffering is unrelated to our sin.
Suffering can also happen for reasons we cannot see or understand. This is where Christians can (and frequently do) become easily discouraged and disheartened. Just ask Job. He suffered more than I can imagine for reasons he never fully understood. Yet, the fruit of his suffering was clearly evident. Thank God we can always be assured by the truth of Romans 5:3-5 but must understand that we don't always know why we suffer.
Because we can't know why we suffer, it is imperative that we understand and cling to the promises of what is accomplished through suffering. That is why posts such as Charlie's are important and why we are posting it here. So, without further ado, here is an abridged version of Charlie’s post. If you would like to read the rest (and I would encourage you to) please hop over to Renewing Thoughts and read it there.
The Purpose of Suffering
Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises dead. 2 Corinthians 1:9
The suffering Paul and his companions were experiencing at this time felt like a death sentence. The burden of their suffering had driven them to the point that they had believed the time had come for them to lose their lives.
In the midst of the despair and sorrow that surround Paul and his companions the God of all comfort came to them. The experience does not end in despair. Though, it does not end in immediate physical deliverance either. Comfort comes by the means of truth. There is a truth attained by the experience which Paul explains in the last sentence, “to make us;” This tremendous burden of suffering had a purpose. There was an aim, a goal that it was set out to accomplish. No suffering is purposeless. Far be it from that! Instead the very creator and sustainer of ever molecule has a purpose in every affliction in our lives. What is that purpose?
It is theological in giving us a correct vision of God
“to make us rely not on ourselves;” The first aspect of this correction is in making us see that we are not God. We are not lords over our lives. We like to think that we are. We like to think that we are in control of each and every day. But suffering is the clearest demonstration that this is not the case. We are not in control.
“but on God;” When suffering removes our reliance from ourselves the only place that is a sufficient rock is none other than God. Suffering brings us to the place where the only stable and sure foundation is the Lord of the universe. This is why God brings suffering, that it might drives us to Him!
“who raises the dead.” It is not: rarely, maybe, sometimes. Our Lord always moves and works for His children. Our God is one who does mighty deeds and glorious works for His children. He never leaves them behind, but always fulfills the plan which he set out to do for them. Now, His plans are not our plans. Faith is holding on to this truth while waiting for the glorious plan of God to come to fruition.
Suffering is hard and painful, yet by faith we can hold to the truth that the purpose is more glorious than a life of ease. Let suffering drive us to Christ and His love!
To those words of wisdom I heartily say amen!
God bless and veritas supra omnis!