written by Elliot Kang
Lots of things are coming with absolute certainty. Death. The rapture of saints. Jesus’ return. A new heaven and earth. And, as Scripture promises us, suffering: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2, emphasis added). Not “if,” but “when.” So, dear believer, you may know with absolute certainty that suffering is coming. Your faith in the Lord and His promises will be tested.
The pressing question at hand is, “How will we ready ourselves?” A storm is coming, and thanks to James’s letter, we will not be caught unawares. But we also need to avoid being caught unprepared. The pantry must be stocked, the flashlight batteries checked, and the hand-wind radio at the ready. Similarly, we need to know what Scripture has to say about difficult times, so that when our faith is tested, we can weather the challenge–not by our strength or determination to beat the trial, but by the greatness and glory of who we have faith in. Is your view of God big enough to handle suffering? If your God is frustrated by your sufferings, you will be like a ship at sea, unanchored in a furious tempest, unsure of where you are and where you are going. But if your God is greater than your sufferings, if you can know that He only allows them for His purposes, then you have an anchor in the storm.
So what does God say about our sufferings? I want to emphasize three things.
God’s glory outweighs our suffering. Everything on earth is temporary, including our sufferings. The glory to come is eternal. With eyes turned heavenward, Paul writes,
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
Paul mixes two descriptors here, one for time, and one for weight. He could have written, “For this momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal glory,” which would still be true, and it is a compelling reason not to lose heart in the midst of suffering. But more than that, he says that the affliction is “light,” but the glory has “weight.” Paul needs an extra dimension to describe the incredibleness of future glory–it is not just beyond comparison because it is forever, but because it is weighty, and it is more. The glory to come is so incredible that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). Our sufferings cause us to look forward to being with God in heaven, when we will see Him as He is, and behold His glory with our own eyes. As we turn our own eyes heavenward, we persevere through our sufferings. Dealing with sin is not easy. Enduring suffering is not easy. So we “groan inwardly”–but as we “wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved” (Romans 8:23b).
God uses our sufferings to grow us. God uses our sufferings intentionally, purposefully. Paul tells us that we know “that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame” (Romans 5:3b-5a). James, after letting us know that we can expect trials, tells us something similar: “you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:3). Our sufferings have a purpose: they build our character, and as we pass through each trial, our faith becomes stronger than it was before. We are assured that we do not suffer needlessly. This promise of purposeful suffering is enough to compel us to “rejoice in our sufferings” (Romans 5:3), to “count it all joy” when we encounter trials (James 1:2). We want to know that our suffering means something, that it is worth it–and God assures us that He is using it to grow us.
“Trust Me.” When it comes to the promise of purposeful suffering, we do not believe blindly. We believe because we know Him who promises! And because we know His character, we trust Him. So we trust that, in His goodness, He will use suffering for our good. If we could trust Him at the beginning for our salvation, if we trust Him now for everything else in our lives, we can trust Him to use our sufferings for His good purposes, because He is the same God before our suffering as during it. “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28a). Why? Because our history reveals the trustworthiness of God: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined… And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:29-30). Therefore, when we suffer, we can entrust our souls to God because we have seen His faithfulness to us in every aspect of our lives.
God is big enough to handle our sufferings, and He is good enough for us to trust Him. When the darkness is suffocating, when the temptation to despair grows immense, when we find it nigh impossible to believe that our sufferings mean anything, we can trust that He who promised is faithful! We can cast ourselves upon Him because we know that He is good. His grace is sufficient for us–more than that, His power is made perfect in our weakness, because where we come short and our hands are too frail to hold on any longer, He will hold us fast. When you suffer, dear believer, He will grow your character and sharpen your longing for heaven as you glorify Him by trusting in His goodness–He will work many, many things through your suffering. So with trembling voice and inward groaning and a longing for glory and a pained but deep desire to trust the Lord, you can sing:
When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil!