When we think about the purpose of suffering, we usually can't get past the "Why?" or "Why me?" questions.
Pain is part of the body's warning system. It's also part of the soul's. In theory that sounds good, but in reality it's hard to learn any kind of lesson when you're so miserable you can't think straight.
Since adversity is inescapable, what can we, as single people, do to prepare for it? Can we make any sense out of it at all? If we can't avoid going through it, how can we wrench some good out of it?
In a nutshell, here's the purpose of suffering:
God allows suffering in our lives to draw us closer to him.
Your first reaction may be "Isn't there an easier way?" Certainly there is, but there is no more effective way. The Bible shows us over and over that desperate men and women cry out to God.
Most of the time we're pretty independent, thank you very much. We treasure our independence, but there's a real danger in it. We risk thinking we're a little god, able to handle anything and everything. Many of us skate by for years, proud that we've got it all under control.
Then something happens that causes you to suffer. It may be an accident or illness. Maybe you lose a loved one. A relationship crumbles. You lose your job or home. A dream is shattered.
When you can't fix it yourself, what do you do? Do you ask God for help? Do you blame God? Do you decide there is no God?
God wants us to turn to him, but he gave us free will. Some people use their free will to become bitter and run from God the rest of their life. But what does it get them? They lose the greatest gift in the universe. They end up empty.
I wish I could tell you you're never going to suffer in your life, but that would be a lie. I'm not talking about going to the dentist or stubbing your toe in the dark or running out of milk.
I'm talking about big suffering. Even rich people can't avoid it. Celebrities get sick and die. They get in car accidents. They get divorced. Money can't spare you all misfortune.
When I was undergoing cobalt radiation treatments for cancer 40 years ago, I was so sick I couldn't dig the lesson out of it then. I was fighting for my life, and I knew I wasn't going to make it under my own power.
I had been a Christian since I was a small child, so it wasn't as if I were converted when I got sick. I had always believed in prayer. I was too weak to do anything except go to my daily treatments. I knew if I was going to make it, I had to depend on Jesus 100 percent.
That was the defining experience of my life. Years later, I believe God allowed that suffering to teach me to depend solely on him.
I learned I make a pitiful god. I can't do anything. I can't perform miracles, I can't heal myself; shoot, sometimes I don't even love myself. I need the real God, the all-powerful God. All the time. So do you.
I'm sure you've seen with your own eyes that devoted Christians can't escape trouble. Some of the most saintly people you know have the hardest lives. What's up with that? Is the purpose of suffering in their lives to force them even closer to God?
I don't know for sure, but that would be my guess. I do know God is good. He doesn't do or allow anything without a very good reason. The most dedicated Christians don't drift from God during trouble; they get even more stubborn in their faithfulness to him.
That's the whole reason for life--to get closer and closer to God. If you start now, on your own, maybe you can avoid some of that suffering. That's just a theory. And just maybe, it might prepare you for when the real trouble comes. You'll already be sure God's on your side. You won't doubt him. You'll understand he still loves you, no matter how tough things get.
None of us likes suffering. We'd be crazy if we did. But when you understand the purpose of suffering is to draw you closer to God, it makes all the difference in your attitude. You don't have to like it, but now you get it.
You're not being picked on. You don't have to feel guilty about some sin you can't even remember. You're going through training, painful training, but when you come out on the other side, your relationship with God will be stronger. You'll trust him more.
Life isn't easy and it isn't fair. You don't get everything you want and you get too much of what you don't want. But you also get God, and you get as much of him as you ask for. He never holds back on himself.
That's what counts. And that makes all the difference in the world.
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