In an imperfect, cursed world, death and suffering are facts of life. There is no way to completely avoid either. One can however profit from the experiences by allowing suffering to accomplish its intended purposes. Suffering is a creation of God's grace. Most, if not all, suffering is the result of loss of something temporal (power/pleasure/possessions) which we think we need for our happiness. Suffering serves us by putting our focus on the eternal aspects of life and helping us fulfill our purposes of knowing and glorifying God and serving others. “Suffering is a vaccine against short-sightedness of the soul.”
Purposes of Suffering:
- Reminder - that we live in an imperfect world, that this world is not all there is. It prevents us from securely and snugly settling down and missing out on our purpose and our ultimate good. Mk1:15 kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel
- Refiner - of impure motives and desires, of lives and character, and helps us set our hope and aspiration on the eternal. Suffering gets our attention on harmful or beneficial things that we would otherwise ignore. C.S. Lewis: "God whispers in our joy but shouts in our pain." Suffering turns on the heat to cause the impurities to rise to the surface so they can be skimmed off and we can better reflect the character of God. We're rewarded for our RESPONSE to trails (Psalm 11) 1Pt 1:7 trial of your faith…result in glory Heb 11
- Remover - of barriers to knowing God and serving others. (Splinter from Finger, Success syndrome from our soul) Js 1:2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.
4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
- Refurbisher - Builds us up for service to others. 2Cor 1:4 (God of all comfort) who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. Adds authenticity to our lives. Paves the way for ministry to others (someone who has lost a child)
- Restrainer - Just like the moderate pain of a burn keeps us from holding on to a hot pot that could burn right through our skin, so suffering keeps us from heading in the wrong direction or continuing to engage in behavior which will yield disastrous consequences. (Lepers, Micah's Mixed Mercy)
- Retribution - Shows that a just God has set up the rules for now and the hereafter. Displays His justice to the world and us. Law of cause and effect is in operation. If we don’t learn from our mistakes, we will repeat them til we do. Occasionally God intervenes, most often He does not. God's grace could be displayed if the parallel were drawn between the consequences of willful neglect of warnings and willful neglect of the warnings of God's word. Eternal benefit is hourly sacrificed on the altar of temporal pleasure. Gal 6:7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.
- Redemption - (as in the case of Christ) His suffering opened the door to the greatest benefit the world has ever experienced. Paul's sufferings enabled others to enter that benefit by means of his ministry and epistles. 2Cor 1:6 Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is being worked out by enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer… 2Cor 12:15 And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved.
- Renewer - Deeper Experience with God and His word. Drives us back to the SOURCE for STRENGTH 2Cor 12:9 And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2Cor 4:16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward [man] is being renewed day by day.
- Revealer of the grace and character of God to us. It not only demonstrates that God can be relied upon, but acquaints us more intimately with the sufferings of Christ, the strengthenings of the Spirit and the splendor of the Father's person. Phil 3:10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, & the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death… cf Rm 8:17 co-suffer
- Revealer of the Glory of God to others. We are a display case for His power to be shown at work: either by supernaturally intervening as in the case of the man born blind or in supernaturally enabling us to face apparent disaster with peace and strength.
1Pt 1:6…though now for a little while…you have been grieved by various trials,7 that the refining of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes…may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,
1Pt:4:12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you;
13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.
1Pt 5:10 t may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.