This week some close friends had a loved one who faced a diagnosis of terminal cancer only to find out two days later that the doctors had made a misdiagnosis and the cancer was indeed treatable! Wow, what a roller coaster of emotions!
This experience reminded me that we need to have a “theology of suffering.” Do you realize that how you view your suffering makes all the difference in the world? Do you believe that God has GOOD purposes for your suffering? Or do you believe that God either doesn’t care you’re suffering, or He is unable to do anything about it? Your theology (study of what God thinks) shapes how you process and even experience your suffering.
Throughout my years of ministry I have taught on the subject of suffering. My own experience of losing my wife in a car crash in 1988 provided a basis for me to experience “my Shepherd who walks with me through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23). My theology of suffering was shaped by experiencing the truth of God’s word as I walked through the most difficult time of my life. I could talk about this for hours and hours as I witnessed God proving Himself and His word to me in personal and powerful ways!
This past week my good friend, Eldon Kibbey, sent out an email that included Dr. John Walvood’s reasons for suffering. This teaching opened my eyes to a couple of additional reasons for why God allows suffering in the lives of His dearly loved children.
John Walvoord’s Reasons for Suffering for Christians:
- UNCONFESSED SIN CAN CAUSE US TO BE JUDGED BY GOD AND MAY CAUSE SUFFERING.
“But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:31–32).
- GOD WANTS US TO GROW SPIRITUALLY AND MAY ALLOW SUFFERING FOR US TO LEARN TO TRUST HIM.
“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:3–5).
- GOD WANTS US TO WORSHIP HIM, NOT OURSELVES! HE MAY SEND US SUFFERING TO TEACH HUMILITY.
“Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Corinthians 12:7–9).
- GOD MAY SEND SUFFERING TO INCREASE THE EFFECTIVENESS OF OUR CHRISTIAN TESTIMONY.
“Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear” (Philippians 1:12–14).
The Lord taught me so much through the suffering He allowed in my life. Here are some of the Scriptures that I learned by experience:
TURN TO GOD FOR HELP
“God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. 3 Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!” (Psalm 46:1–3).
KEEP YOUR THOUGHTS FIXED ON GOD
“You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” (Isaiah 26:3).
GOD PROVIDES STRENGTH FOR EACH NEW DAY
“The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning” (Lamentations 3:22–23).
“WAIT ON THE LORD” MEANS GET TO KNOW CHRIST
But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31 (NKJV)
KNOW THE CHARACTER OF THE ONE IN WHOM YOU HAVE BELIEVED
“For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (2 Timothy 1:12).
UNDERSTAND THAT YOUR SUFFERING IS FAIR
Job says, “People are born for trouble as predictably as sparks fly upward from a fire.” (Job 5:7).
David says, “The righteous face many troubles, but the Lord rescues them from each and every one.” (Psalm 34:19).
Jesus says, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).
TROUBLES ARE TEMPORARY
“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17–18).
AFTER THE SUFFERING GOD WILL STRENGTHEN YOU
“In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation” (1 Peter 5:10).
SUFFERING BUILDS YOUR FAITH AND BRINGS SPIRITUAL MATURITY
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2–4).
ASK GOD TO SHOW YOU WHAT HE DESIRES TO ACCOMPLISH IN YOUR CHARACTER
“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).
PERSEVERANCE IN SUFFERING BRINGS BLESSINGS
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).
These are just some of the Scriptures that God taught me by experience as He allowed me to suffer through the loss of Donna. He has reinforced the lessons many times since then. Out of this I have developed a theology of suffering that provides understanding and hope in times of trials. And my loving Father continues to teach and shape my theology as He reveals more and more His good purposes in suffering.
My prayer is that you would fix your heart on the Lord even as you walk through trials, struggles, challenges, and tragedies. Allow the Lord to develop in you a theology of suffering so that your suffering is not in vain.
Onward growing through suffering,