I don’t know of anyone in their right mind that likes suffering. Janice and I were talking about the fact that it seems like there is so much suffering going on around us these days. We have seen several people around us experiencing very difficult times from losing loved ones suddenly to dealing with serious illnesses. It used to be that we would hear about people in our circle or near our circle of friends. Today, with social media, we have access to a much bigger circle and we hear more about people going through hard times.
Thinking about all the suffering we have seen caused me to consider what God’s purpose is in suffering. It is easy to ask if suffering is fair but when we stop and consider God’s purpose in suffering it can help us realize that suffering is for our own good. I don’t want to give you trite answers or analogies like it requires irritation from sand in the oyster to cause him to form a pearl. While that is true it is also true that an oyster is an oyster and we are human.
In looking at suffering I think the Apostle Paul may be the foremost authority on the subject given all that he went through. In 2 Corinthians Paul gives us some insight into the horrible suffering he dealt with even to the point of thinking he might not survive. After facing horrible suffering, he still writes these words in chapter 4 verse 17.
“For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison”
How could Paul call all that he had been through “momentary” and “light”? Paul’s focus was not on the present or as he says in verse 18, “things seen”, his focus was on the “unseen” or things that are eternal. He understood what we would do well to understand, eternity is far more important that the temporal. Paul knew that suffering drove him to God and grew his faith. That is the purpose of suffering. Suffering is no fun and it can be awful at times but God can also use it to grow us and draw us closer to Him.
The next time suffering comes along try to change your focus. Rather than focus on the things around you that are seen, focus on eternity and what God is doing to grow you or draw you closer to Him. He is producing things for glory far beyond all comparison. Affliction here can only last for a limited time, the growth we experience can last for eternity. Thank God that He wants to grow us and shape us into His image.