The reality that God allows Christians to suffer is one of the most difficult things about being a Christian. Believers all around the world and throughout all the ages have experienced pain and suffering. Most have been persecuted, beaten, starved, and even killed for their faith. Christians suffer from diseases, and will even die horrific deaths because of them.
The purpose of this article is to discuss the reasons why God allows his children to suffer. It is a follow-up to my previous article on why God allows evil in the world. I do not pretend that this article will present every single reason why God allows Christians to suffer. No single article can do that. Instead, I will present some of the main reasons that Scripture teaches about the topic.
The Purpose of Christian Suffering
One of the first and obvious reasons why God allows Christians to suffer is to discipline them. This is taught in Hebrews 12:5-11 where the author tells Christians to view the hardships of this life as discipline. Quoting Proverbs 3:11-12, Hebrews tells us that God disciplines those whom he loves. In that light, if there were no hardships or trials in our lives we should probably worry. Discipline, the author tells us, is painful at the time we receive it, but in the end, it will produce righteousness for all those who have gone through it.
Suffering, then, is used by God to make us more like Christ himself. Once again Hebrews, in 5:8, teaches that even Christ learned obedience through suffering. This should be a boost in confidence for a Christian who is facing tribulations and trials in their life. Even the Creator himself learned from suffering. Pain and suffering in this world will develop our character in ways that could not happen if they were absent from our lives.
The testing of our faith is another reason why God will allow pain and suffering. This will allow us to see just how faithful we are to God. God can also use this to show Satan that we are indeed faithful like what happened to Job. Jesus’ brother, James, writes in his epistle (1:2) to be joyful when we experience hardship and that this testing of our faith will develop perseverance.
Christians, like everyone else in the world, are sinners. Although Christians are called to not be a part of the world and its sinfulness, they still will find themselves doing the things they should not. 1 Peter 4:1-2 tells us that God will use suffering in a way that will remove sin from our lives. Earlier in the same letter (1:6-7), Peter notes that God will use trials to refine our faith. This refining is like the process in which fire refines gold. The suffering in this world is greater than the worth of gold. We all want more money so we can have all the earthly things that we want and need. How many Christians want more suffering in their lives?
God can also use pain and suffering as a way to remove any chance that we may boast. This is what happened to Paul in 2 Cor. 12:7. Paul notes that in order to keep him from being conceited, God gave him “a thorn in the flesh.” This thorn was tormenting him, and he asked God three different times to take the thorn away. Instead of taking it away, God told Paul that his power was made perfect in that weakness. This thorn is typically seen as some kind of health issue. God used Paul’s health problems to keep his boasting under control and to remind him of his need to keep in close contact with God. Paul used this thorn to boast of his weakness and God’s power to overcome it.
This is an important thing to keep in mind if you have a health problem. If you find yourself with health issues, remember that God could be using it to humble and grow your character to become more like Christ.
Christians will also experience trials as a way to prepare them for ministry with those who are suffering themselves (2 Cor. 1:3-4). Our experience with suffering can be an encouragement to others to believe and depend on God with their moments of pain. We gain experience and knowledge with how to do with loss and pain. This allows us to help those who are going through similar situations that we have gone through.
In addition, God will allow Christians to suffer persecution because this can be a powerful witness to the truth of the Gospel. If a believer will willingly suffer for their beliefs, this can, and often has, caught the attention of unbelievers. This may cause them to become interested in learning more about the Gospel and may lead to their conversion. Christian persecution was a major factor in why so many people converted to the faith in the Roman Empire.
God may also use suffering in ways that are similar to the blind man in John 9:1-3. Jesus and his disciples met a blind man who had not never been able to see since he was born that way. The disciples asked whether it was this man or his parents that had sinned to have caused him to be blind. Although the disease is a part of the cursed world which we live (hence blindness is a punishment for sinning) God allowed the blindness so that his work could be displayed in the form of a miracle of healing.
In all, however, our present sufferings serve us for something much greater. Paul teaches in Romans 8:28 “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” 1 Peter 1:7 says that our suffering prepares us for the return of Christ. He also teaches the importance of the theme of suffering and glory in numerous verses (1 Peter 1:6-7, 11, 21; 2:12, 15, 19-21; 3:9, 14-22; 4:1, 4, 12-16; 5:1-6, 9-10). This glory will manifest itself at the resurrection and in the new heaven and new earth. It will be at this moment when all our present sufferings will be fully understood, and the good that God worked towards throughout our lives will become known.
Pain, suffering, and evil come into the ultimately because of sin. However, God allows Christians to suffer for reasons that go beyond the curse. He uses it to test our faith, discipline us, and to grow our character. He uses it to remove sin from our lives and to make us more into the image of Christ. Pain and hardship are a way for us to be refined like the way gold is purified in the fire. It is never pleasant at the time, but in the end, our sufferings should make us better Christians and prepare us for the day which we will be ushered into a world without sin and where we will live with Christ forever.
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