Theology Thursday: The Purpose of Suffering

By Brian Koning, Faculty

Jesus on the cross to redeem us from a fallen world

Human experience is vast and varied, but few things exist as a universal experience like suffering. The pains and problems vary from person to person, but we all suffer. This fact leads to the common question: why does God allow suffering? Given this constant part of life, the wise person should seek to understand heartaches and how to react to suffering when it arrives.

One of the most common responses is bitterness — a deep resentment for the pain we all go through. While suffering can undoubtedly sow the seeds of bitterness and resentment, that is not how Christians should respond to it. Instead, we are called to see suffering as a part of life meant to dissatisfy us with the present fallen world and to instill in us a longing for eternity. To unpack this idea, consider the three main aspects of suffering:

Suffering as a Consequence of Sin

The first truth about suffering is the recognition that it is alien to God’s plan of life. That might sound incredible, but to the Christian worldview, it is vital. Suffering is a product of the fall, a consequence of human sin against God (Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:21).

Suffering is in our lives because we are living in a broken world. Some suffering is due to our sinful and wrong choices, but some is due simply to the world being fallen. This aspect of suffering should drive us to long for a better world, a world redeemed and freed from sin, a world that God will one day come again to establish (Romans 8:19-23).

Suffering as a Tool of Sanctification

Nothing is so broken as to be unusable by God. Although suffering is alien to His goal for humanity, God uses it now as part of our development as people. Nothing forces a person to confront their true self like suffering. Suffering causes our focus to turn inward, to face those parts of ourselves we might otherwise ignore. God can use suffering then to develop us into better people: the people who can love and enjoy Him forever (Romans 5:3-5; James 1:2-4).

Suffering as a Test of Faith

Finally, suffering is the crucible by which we find our center and demonstrate the truth of our faith to the world. In times of intense pain or turmoil, we cling to what we have placed our hope in. In this way, suffering reveals whether our faith is a mere childish hope or a factual reality.

Here we see suffering as a call to live out a better and more faithful witness to the world. Like the prophet Habakkuk, suffering calls us to declare to those around us, “yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:18).

As we develop an understanding of how to approach suffering, we must be clear that suffering never becomes good. Suffering remains evil. What must be understood though, is that suffering can be redeemed; it can be made purposeful. When we are burdened beyond our strength, we must not become bitter but instead allow our faith to make us better. For the Christian, we must see suffering as a trifold call to long for a better world, to seek to become a better person and to live out a better witness.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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