Suffering is defined as “the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship”. I think we would all agree that the reality of suffering is as unavoidable as the definition is unsavory. However, is there a purpose to suffering?
I will admit at the outset that I avoid pain, discomfort and suffering of all forms as much as I can. I am not a “sucker for punishment” in any way. But since it is unavoidable I’ve tried to develop something of a theology for dealing with it. And I like what Helen Keller said, “although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”
One does not have to look far or read much in the Bible to discover a number of positive results and by-products to suffering. In the space remaining I will share just a few of them.
Suffering can make us tough! Not the difficult and obstinate kind of tough, but the kind that re-results in maturation and endurance.
This is particularly true if the suffering is related to faith issues. At the Nicene Council in the fourth century A.D. of the 318 delegates attending, fewer than 12 had not lost an eye or lost a hand or did not limp on a leg lamed by torture for their Christian faith. “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” (James 1:2).
Suffering, properly managed, builds trust in God. In 2 Corinthians 1:3 – 4a we read, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction…” To know that suffering is unavoidable is difficult, but to simultaneously understand that God is not unavailable…that is incredible!
But suffering also makes us tender. As we toughen up and continue to trust we will come across others who are in distress. The hardships that we have experienced, are intended to provide us with tools for helping others who are going through difficult times.
The passage quoted above explains that one of the primary reasons that God comforts us is, “so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:4b).
Finally, suffering will temper and strengthen our character. Suffering results in humility (2 Corinthians 12:7) and results in our being identified with Christ in His suffering (1 Peter 3:17, 18).
There is purpose to suffering! “A clay pot sitting in the sun will always be a clay pot. It has to go through the white heat of the furnace to become porcelain.”
FAITH & REFLECTION