We don’t have to look far to see suffering in this world, do we? From texts to social media to news outlets, we witness firsthand the trials and tribulations of living in this broken world. We probably know a neighbor, friend, or family member going through a difficult challenge. We are acutely aware of natural disasters and political conflicts happening around the globe.
Believers are not exempt from afflictions. Every follower of Christ will experience some kind of trial or suffering. From the moment we wake up, to the moment our head hits the pillow, we may also feel the chronic struggle of doing life this side of Heaven. What should be our response when we feel the weight of suffering?
The Trials of Suffering
First, we should consider what suffering is. Suffering looks different from culture to culture and person to person. Quite simply, suffering is the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship. This certainly is a broad definition under which many things can fall. Physical pain, chronic illness, mental or emotional distress, relational tensions, financial loss, familial conflicts, social injustice, and the list could go on and on.
Whatever the suffering, it comes to us as a direct result of the fall of man. When our first parents disobeyed God and ate from the forbidden tree, sin entered the world, and with it suffering. The effects of the fall were immediate: the ground itself was cursed, new life would come through pain, entrance to the Garden and God’s presence was banned, and death cast its shadow over all living things.
We experience suffering for many reasons. Sometimes we can identify it as a direct consequence of our sin or even the sin of others. Other times, it is simply the result of living in a broken world. No one is immune to its touch; it affects all of humankind.
Seasons of Suffering
James 1:2 tell us that we can expect to face trials of many kinds. He doesn’t say “if” but rather “when” they come, we can find joy in the midst of them. We will all face seasons of loss, lack, and longing. Many of us are acquainted with walking through our own dark days and deep valleys. We know that the apostle Paul wrestled with his own long-term physical suffering, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9- 8).
We see that Paul leaned into his weakness so that God would be glorified. We too must not lose the capacity for joy, but rather cling to the truth of God’s word and trust in his character. James also tells us, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him (1:12)” We don’t suffer alone. Every circumstance God gives us is but only a setting for Him to pursue our hearts.
The Shame of Suffering
Oftentimes, our first reaction to a trial is “Why me?” We question and look for reasons to understand a tragedy or hardship. But Peter encourages us that we don’t have to wonder: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Pet. 4:12–13).
We often feel shame in our suffering, as though we are the only ones facing it. We forget that we all encounter trials in life. We also don’t like to acknowledge our limitations. There is a freedom that comes with acknowledging our human shortcomings and inadequacies, and in voicing our failures and temptations and heartaches. In doing so, we recognize that we are dependent upon God for his grace. We rest upon him and his work in and through us.
And while we may know in our heads that suffering is for a season, it can be hard to remember that our situation is temporary compared to eternity. Pain is an excellent liar. The pain can be so real, but the hope can be too.
The Product of Suffering
Following Christ does not safeguard us against the effects of the fall. In fact, to follow Christ is to endure suffering for God’s glory and for our good. “For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). Suffering sanctifies and purifies us. When the storms come, when trial and tribulation befall us, we can testify to God’s goodness, faithfulness, and lovingkindness in our lives. “My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life” (Psalm 119:50).
The gospel tells us that God’s love for us is constant, unchanging, and unconditional. Because we are anchored in these truths, we can experience a divine fullness of joy in the midst of unthinkable heartbreak. Chelsea Patterson Sobolik succinctly stated, “When we respond to suffering well, we practically demonstrate to the unbelieving world that Christ is more glorious and precious to us than any pain and difficulty we might .”
James again reminds us that, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (1:17-18). Time with Jesus is never wasted. What we store up now in our spiritual bank account is what we will have to draw from when life’s tempests threaten to overwhelm us. When we live life with a constant awareness of and dependency on God, it gives us great joy to be in the presence of our Father—no matter our external circumstances.
For all of us who suffer, God brings redemption. Let us find hope in that today.
About the Author:
Sarah Beaugh lives in San Antonio, Texas with her husband, Alex, and their three daughters in a house whose door is constantly open to their community. She formerly taught both as a middle school teacher and homeschooling mom, and she most recently served as the Director of Children’s Ministries at her home church, Redeemer Presbyterian Church. Sarah is currently a freelance writer and speaker who enjoys encouraging women while preaching truth to her own heart.