The Purpose of Suffering

Suffering. So often we view suffering as a burden to be borne, an inconvenience that must be endured, and a hardship that must be overcome. But, in reality, suffering is so much more than that. In fact, one might view suffering as a privilege. But you ask, why? Well…let me explain.

Suffering either brings us closer to God or takes us further away from God, depending on our response to that suffering. Life is about developing a character that God can take to heaven, and God uses suffering and trials to help the process of sanctification along.

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All suffering is a consequence of sin, but there are three different types of suffering. There is the suffering that is punishment for sin and can be extremely painful to the unrepentant sinner, and redemptive to observers. The punishment for sin always fits the crime. The more light we have, the more responsibility we have, and the more we are held responsible for what we could have known. When we are given great light from God, He requires great returns…and when we fail to give Him the proper return, He cannot accept it, and the punishment for sin is correspondingly increased. I remember that when I was younger and I would do something wrong that there were varying degrees of punishment. If I lied I would get my mouth washed out with soap, for other things I would have to run around the house, in others I would be sent to my room, and in rare instances I would be punished by spanking. My parents always made sure that the punishment fit the crime. I wasn’t spanked for saying something I shouldn’t; I was spanked for hitting my sister.

The second type of suffering reveals the errors we have made; it is redemptive to the sinner and also to observers, meaning that it works for both our good and others. God tries every means possible to save us before He proceeds to extreme measures. If we do not quickly realize our error and repent God will increase the suffering, or try a different method of suffering in an effort to enlighten us to truth. And when suffering does its work and we respond to it correctly and realize our errors and repent and turn from our evil ways the suffering works for our good in shaping our characters for heaven.

The third type of suffering works to purify, and sanctify us; it works to reveal the character of God and it enables us to partake of the sufferings of Christ. We are to learn from our mistakes, and God will use our mistakes to help us to grow. He brings us to something, like a trial, and if we fail the test we go full circle right back to where we started. And yet, with each repetition the trial gets more difficult. If we are not passing the test we are not growing in our sanctification experience. I know many times in my life it seemed like I kept making the same mistake over and over again, and I probably was. But the reason for the repetition was that I did not acknowledge my mistake and grow from it. We are to conquer in the strength of Christ, not carry burdens of mistakes.

Suffering is a requirement. We cannot be glorified without passing through suffering, we cannot be in heaven without suffering here on earth. Yet, the harder we hold on to self, to our fear of suffering, the tougher the suffering becomes. We need to have confidence in God; we need to give Him our whole heart, our affections, our obedience. God gave everything in giving His Son to die for sinful humanity, God gave Himself. Heaven gave their king to this little speck of dust we call earth. God will settle for nothing less than for everything we are, everything we do.

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We have the privilege of working with Christ in the work of sanctification. We have the privilege of relieving suffering humanity, of revealing God, of rejoicing in our sufferings. All who follow Christ will wear the crown of sacrifice, and followers of Christians are not to be gloomy. Even though we may not understand the meaning of many trials, even though they are not explained to us…because to explain them would be to destroy the object of them…which is to purify and sanctify…we can have perfect trust that God is ever ready to help, and that He will never fail us. God’s purpose is not merely to deliver us from suffering, but to save us from sin itself, and the pathway in which He invites us to walk would never have cost us any pain, any suffering, if we had always walked in it. It is when we stray from the path of duty, from the pathway God is ordaining for our feet, that the way becomes difficult and painful. Fellowship with Christ in His sufferings is the weightiest trust and the highest honor.

So ask yourself this question: Am I suffering for Christ today?

(DA 225; 4T 558; ME 61; Letter W-87-1895; DA 223; MB 61; 1 Peter 4:13; CH 385; 3T 369; EW 67; 1T 155; Romans 8:17; 4BC 968 (not EGW); PP 359-360)

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