Do you ever wonder why it seems like so many Christians endure incredible suffering? Nearly every day I hear of another believer or Christian family facing a tragic, heartbreaking, or dire situation. It's hard to push away the immediate question of "why?" Why does there have to be so much pain? Why is life so heavy for so many of those who are following Christ? Why isn't God protecting His people?
I've wrestled with these questions many times in my own family's trials. Sometimes, it seems, the deeper our faith roots go, the more the trials come.
However, as I have grown over the years and have seen the deep work Christ has done in our family through the trials that once (and sometimes still do) caused me to ask "why?", I have grown in my understanding of why God allows so much suffering in the lives of those He loves and why the Church needs to learn to suffer with the hope of Christ.
Suffering with Hope Reflects Our Suffering Savior
If we, as the Church, follow a suffering Savior, we should prepare ourselves to suffer with Him. If even Christ learned obedience through what He suffered (Heb. 5:8), then how much more do we, as His children, need to learn obedience through suffering?
God's Word says clearly that since Christ suffered in the flesh (to the point of death) for the sake of our freedom from sin, we, too, should expect to suffer as we follow Him—suffering for the name of Christ and suffering for the sake of learning obedience and being sanctified from sin (1 Peter 4:1–2).
Yet in that suffering, we have hope that the world doesn't know.
Just as Christ's suffering had an eternal purpose, every moment of our suffering as believers has a purpose and is being used to prepare us for our promised eternity with Christ (Rom. 8:28). This hope and joy we have in even the most despairing circumstances is what declares the infinite worth of following Christ to the world—most powerfully as we share in His sufferings.
But not only do we share in His sufferings, we also share abundantly in His comfort (2 Cor. 1:5).
In the words of Charles Spurgeon:
It is a blessed thing that when we are most downcast, then we are most lifted up by the consolations of the Spirit. One reason is, trials make more room for consolation. Great hearts can only be made by great troubles. The spade of trouble digs the reservoir of comfort deeper and makes more room for consolation. God comes into our hearts—He finds it full—He begins to break our comforts and to make it empty; then there is more room for grace. The humbler the man is, the more comfort he will always have, because he will be more fitted to receive it. Another reason why we are often happiest in our troubles is this—then we have the closest dealings with God.¹
Suffering with Hope Proves Our Faith Genuine
When suffering hits, it either drives us away from Christ or drives us to Him. As believers, suffering is used as the "pressure" to reveal what is really inside of us and to teach us endurance. As we are strengthened by the Holy Spirit, we endure. As we endure, the Spirit grows in us the character of Christ. And as we grow in the character of Christ, we experience hope—a hope that is found in our faith being proven genuine (Rom. 5:3–5).
The truth is that it's easy to follow Christ when everything's going according to our plans and life is comfortable. It's often not until we pass through the furnace of affliction that God proves our faith to be genuine and as we see the evidence of Christ at work within us, we grow in hope.
As the Church, we shouldn't seek out suffering, but we also shouldn't fear it. When we see a fellow Christian suffering a senseless tragedy or carrying a burden that we can't imagine carrying, we may be tempted to ask "why?" But we can pray and trust that Christ will be near to them in their pain, sufficient in their weakness, and will use it to accomplish His good purposes.
Suffering with Hope Testifies to the Power of the True Gospel and Disqualifies False Gospels
We live in a world that tirelessly pursues comfort, success, and happiness. If we, as believers, experience nothing else, why would anyone take notice of the treasure that we have in Christ?
However, when a Christian suffers and simultaneously experiences sadness and grief with hope, joy, and contentment in Christ, the world takes notice—and the treasure of Christ shines through our brokenness (2 Cor. 4:7–10). For this reason, when the church suffers for the sake of Christ, it shows the treasure of the true gospel and exposes the emptiness of false gospels.
Millions are being sucked into the lie that if we have enough faith, God will prosper us in an earthly sense. However, the true gospel says that in God's goodness and love, He sacrificed His only Son to give us forgiveness of sins and eternal life with Him—not a heaven on earth. In God's grace, He allows trials to separate us from a love for this world and happiness rooted in its shifting sands in order to free us to love Him more and find eternal security, hope, and joy in Him alone.
With this in mind, we shouldn’t see suffering as a hindrance to our ministry to others, but rather as the very means God may use to minister the life-giving hope of the gospel to those around us.
I have found that Christ has used my suffering far more than He has used my times of ease to reach those around me with the gospel. Of course, that doesn't mean we can only share the hope of Christ when we are suffering. Our encouragement and willingness to serve others in their suffering is also an incredible witness to the gospel. However, the treasure of the gospel is most powerfully displayed through our broken cracks, and the power of Christ is most greatly seen through our weaknesses.
Suffering with Hope Draws Us into Greater Unity with Each Other
Suffering has a way of setting aside differences and drawing people together in a common goal. Christians are "one body," which means we should be always be marked by unity and love in Christ. But the reality is the Church is filled with redeemed sinners, not fully sanctified ones.
We are commanded to love one another, rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer, rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep, live in harmony with one another, not be haughty, and never be wise in our own sight (Rom. 12:10–16). However, these things don't come naturally, do they? So how does Christ grow these things in His children? Whether we like it or not, He does it most often on the road of suffering.
The reality is the Body of Christ needs suffering because it has a way of stripping away our "false pretenses," our outward goodness, and our independence from Christ and each other. The Church is not meant to be a place filled with perfect, whole, lukewarm people. Rather, it is made up of broken sinners who have been redeemed and are in the process of being made whole into the image of Christ.
If you are not currently suffering, thank the Lord for this season and use it to grow in spiritual maturity through reading and obeying the Word and being connected to the Body of Christ. The process of being made into the image of Christ will inevitably include suffering at some point, as we learn to follow our suffering Savior. But we can trust the Lord to use our trials for the purpose of identifying with Him, uniting us to each other, and using us to witness to a hurting world with the life-giving hope of the gospel.
¹ Charles H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: A New Edition of the Classic Devotional Based on the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Revised and Updated by Alistair Begg, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003), February 12.