This is part of long reflections about suffering from Martin R. De Haan II. I found them something worth sharing, especially during Holy Week. The entire reflection is very lengthy so I decided to break it up based on the section therein.
So why does a loving God allow suffering?
To Shape Us
Athletic coaches like to use the phrase “No pain, no gain.” As a high school track star (Okay, maybe I wasn’t that great, but I tried hard!), I heard coaches remind us again and again that the tough practice sessions would pay off when we began to compete. They were right. Oh, we didn’t always win, but our hard work did produce obvious benefits.
I learned a lot about myself during those years. And now I’m learning even more as I discipline myself to jog daily. Many days I would just as soon forget it. I don’t want to have to feel the pain of stretching exercises. I would rather not push my body’s “radiator system” to the extreme. I would just as soon not have to battle fatigue as I go up the hills. So why do I do it? The gain is worth the pain. My blood pressure and pulse rate are kept low, my middle isn’t expanding, and I feel more alert and healthy.
Exercise may have obvious benefits, but what about pain that we don’t choose? What about illness, disease, accidents, and emotional agony? What kind of gain can come from those? Is the gain really worth the pain?
Let’s consider what a fellow-sufferer had to say in Romans 5:3,4. The apostle Paul wrote, “. . . we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
Paul introduced his statement about the benefits of suffering by saying “we glory in tribulations.” How could he say that we should rejoice or be happy that we are having to endure some painful tragedy? He certainly was not telling us to celebrate our troubles; rather, he was telling us to rejoice about what God can and will do for us and for His glory through our trials. Paul’s statement encourages us to celebrate the end product, not the painful process itself. He did not mean we are to get some sort of morbid joy out of death, cancer, deformity, financial reversals, a broken relationship, or a tragic accident. All these things are awful–a dark reminder that we live in a world that has been corrupted by the curse of sin’s effects.
The apostle James also wrote about how we should rejoice in the end result of our troubles. He said, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (1:2-4).
As we combine the truths of these two passages, we can see how the good and praiseworthy products of suffering are patient perseverance, maturity of character, and hope. God can use the hardships of life to shape us to be more mature in the faith, more godly, more Christlike.
When we trust Christ as our Savior, the Lord does not suddenly zap us so that we become perfect people. What He does is remove sin’s penalty and set us on the road that leads to heaven. Life then becomes a time of character development as we learn more about God and how we are to please Him. Suffering has a way of dramatically forcing us to deal with the deeper issues of life. By doing so, we grow stronger and gain maturity.
My grandfather, Dr. M. R. De Haan, spoke about the shaping process of our lives in his book Broken Things. He wrote:
The greatest sermons I have ever heard were not preached from pulpits but from sickbeds. The greatest, deepest truths of God’s Word have often been revealed not by those who preached as a result of their seminary preparation and education, but by those humble souls who have gone through the seminary of affliction and have learned experientially the deep things of the ways of God.
The most cheerful people I have met, with few exceptions, have been those who had the least sunshine and the most pain and suffering in their lives. The most grateful people I have met were not those who traveled a pathway of roses all their lives through, but those who were confined, because of circumstances, to their homes, often to their beds, and had learned to depend upon God as only such Christians know how to do. The gripers are usually, I have observed, those who enjoy excellent health. The complainers are those who have the least to complain about, and those dear saints of God who have refreshed my heart again and again as they preached from sickbed-pulpits have been the men and women who have been the most cheerful and the most grateful for the blessings of almighty God (pp.43,44).
How have you responded to the difficulties of life? Have you become bitter or better? Have you grown in your faith or turned away from God? Have you become more Christlike in your character? Have you let it shape you and conform you to the image of God’s Son?
How do all things work together for good?
Perhaps the most quoted part of the Bible during a time of pain and suffering is Romans 8:28. It reads, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” This verse has often been misunderstood and perhaps misused, but its truth can bring a great deal of comfort.
The context of Romans 8 emphasizes what God is doing for us. The indwelling Holy Spirit gives us spiritual life (v.9), reassures us that we are children of God (v.16), and helps us with our prayers during our times of weakness (vv.26,27). Romans 8 also puts our sufferings in the bigger picture of what God is doing–that God is working out His plan of redemption (vv.18-26). Verses 28 through 39 reassure us of God’s love for us, that no one or no thing could ever keep God from accomplishing what He wants to do, and that nothing could ever separate us from His love.
Properly viewed in the context of Romans 8, then, verse 28 powerfully reassures us that God is working on behalf of all who have trusted His Son as Savior. The verse does not promise that we will understand all the events of life or that after a time of testing we will be blessed with good things in this life. But it does reassure us that God is working out His good plan through our lives. He is shaping us and our circumstances to bring glory to Himself.
Author Ron Lee Davis writes in his book Becoming a Whole Person in a Broken World, “The good news is not that God will make our circumstances come out the way we like, but that God can weave even our disappointments and disasters into His eternal plan. The evil that happens to us can be transformed into God’s good. Romans 8:28 is God’s guarantee that if we love God, our lives can be used to achieve His purposes and further His kingdom” (p.122).
“But,” you may ask, “how can God be in control when life seems so out of control? How can He be working things together for His glory and our ultimate good?” In his book Why Us? Warren Wiersbe states that God “proves His sovereignty, not by intervening constantly and preventing these events, but by ruling and overruling them so that even tragedies end up accomplishing His ultimate purposes” (p.136).
As the sovereign Lord of the universe, God is using all of life to develop our maturity and Christlikeness, and to further His eternal plan. In order to accomplish those purposes, however, God wants to use us to help others, and He wants other people to help us. That’s what the next section is all about.