Why Must We Suffer?

by Rebecca Tonn

Everyone suffers—you, me, the neighbor, your family and friends. Admittedly, some people seem to breeze through life with much less suffering, which then makes us suffer with envy, or at least questions. Why me and not him or her?
When it gets right down to it, however, everyone does suffer. Given people’s temperaments and life situations, one person’s dead battery might be another’s broken leg or major car accident.

No one gets exempted—not in this lifetime.

Perhaps you’re helplessly watching a loved one with a terminal illness. Maybe a sibling or your teenage child has lashed out at you with harsh, hateful words. Could be you’re going through a divorce or watching a son or daughter wade through the tide of child-custody issues.

Do you feel as though the life’s being sucked out of you every minute you’re at work, but can’t find a different job? Or do you work 55 hours per week and still can’t make ends meet? Maybe you’re going through a supreme test, like my aunt and uncle, whose 35-year-old son, a police officer, was killed in the line of duty on January 15th.

Maybe what you’re going through now doesn’t seem earth shattering from the outside, but to you, deep inside your psyche, the pain seems relentless and unbearable.
If you’ve ever thought, "Why is this happening to me?" then you’re an ordinary, normal human being. Whew! What a comfort. Thousands of years ago, in the Old Testament, Job wondered the same thing: "Why did I not die from the womb?" (Job 3:11). Job’s intense suffering caused him to proclaim that "the terrors of God do set themselves in array against me" (Job 6:4, KJV).

Even Jesus Christ, the son of God, cried out in agony on the cross: "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46, NASB).

Some people have been gifted with more faith than others—certainly Abraham, while preparing to sacrifice his only son in obedience to God, was stalwart in his faith.

Definitely, the widow who gave her last mite in the temple (Mark 12:41-44) lived with much greater doses of faith and grace than poor Jonah who jumped on a ship to run away from God rather than risk seeing salvation for the entire city of Nineveh (Jonah 1:10; 4:2-3).

Whether you’re a stalwart in the faith or a Jonah, God’s got you right where He wants you: Firmly in the palm of His hand (Isaiah 49:16).

Let that comfort you—you’re smack dab in the middle of God’s will, in the middle of God’s plan for you. So even if you’ve been wasting your time whining at God or complaining to others, God’s still got you.

Not that you can’t change your thought patterns, though. Viewing your life from God’s perspective will actually decrease your suffering, even if your circumstances remain the same.

Let’s get to the point: Why do we have to suffer?

Suffering is part-and-parcel of being human. It gets better, though: Suffering is necessary, now, in order for us to be glorified, later.
"Yet if [we are] children [of God, then we are] enjoyers also of an allotment, enjoyers, indeed, of God’s allotment, and joint enjoyers of Christ’s allotment, if so be that we are suffering together, that we should be glorified together, also" (Romans 8:17, Concordant Literal New Testament).

The apostle Paul tells us that if we suffer together with Christ, then we will share the allotment of Christ. What exactly is Christ’s allotment? Only this: To be seated at the right hand of God, and rule and reign in the celestials (Ephesians 1:20-21).

Of course it’s difficult in the heat of the moment or the aloneness of agony to remember that this life isn’t all there is—not by a long shot. Yet if we can remember that this life is short (even though often it seems long and painful)—that this life is the testing ground, the trial (pun intended) run, if you will, of our celestial allotment (to reign and be glorified with Christ), then we’ll have learned most of what we need to know to get through this life with dignity, grace, and gratitude. God has promised us the highest honor possible for Him to bestow: Co-enjoyers of Christ’s allotment—sharing the glories of heaven with His precious and beloved Son; when Christ is manifested to the universe, we will be with Him, at God’s right hand, revealed together with Christ in glory (Colossians 3:1-4).

Meanwhile, how can this help comfort us in the midst of whatever we’re going through? Not to be cliché, but a daily—better yet, hourly—dose of God’s Word and His promises go a long way toward healing our suffering.

Go ahead, challenge yourself to memorize some key verses and recite them, aloud or in your head, as you walk through your day—especially on those days when the pain seems unbearable.

Here’s a small collage of some powerful verses on the purpose of suffering:

"Now we are aware that God is working ALL together for the good of those who are loving God" (Romans 8:28);
"In ALL these [things] we are MORE than conquering, through Him who loves us" (Romans 8:37);
"Rejoicing in expectation, enduring affliction, persevering in prayer" (Romans 12:12);
"According as the sufferings of Christ are superabounding in us, thus, through Christ, our consolation also is superabounding"(2 Corinthians 1:5).

Christ suffered immensely on the cross—but that wasn’t the end nor the full portion of His suffering. Christ suffers in us, when we suffer, for we are His body. We share in the "participation of His sufferings" (Philippians 3:10); and, as Christ’s body, our persecutions and afflictions "deem [us] worthy of the kingdom of God, for which [we] are suffering" (2 Thessalonians 1:4-5).

Therefore, our trials are not only absolutely necessary, but our trials are a step toward hastening His return, the second coming—our snatching away (I Thessalonians 4:13-18).

In the first part of 2 Corinthians chapter one, Paul alludes to one of his trials (nearly killed by a mob in Ephesus), explaining one of the main reasons why we must suffer—to ensure we rely on God, not ourselves:
"But we have had the rescript [answer] of death in ourselves, in order that we may be having no confidence in ourselves, but in God, Who rouses the dead, Who rescues us from a prodigious death, and will be rescuing [us], on Whom we rely: That He will still be rescuing also …" (2 Corinthians 1:9-10).

Another key, mentioned in this verse, is prayer. Paul expects the saints to pray for him and others in their affliction and to thank God for their affliction and rescue.

The more diligently we pray for others in their suffering and trials, the less we will notice our own circumstances. Get your mind off your own concerns and praise God for everything—the good, the bad, and the ugly—in your own life, and then start beseeching Him on behalf of others. Praise and prayer for others will ease your own burdens.

Speaking of praise and prayer, the apostle Paul’s prayer for the ecclesia is that we will "grow in the realization of God, being endued with all power … for all endurance and patience with joy; at the same time giving thanks to the Father" (Colossians 1:10-12).

In addition, remember that God lovingly teaches us, in the same manner that good parents teach their children—through a combination of love, rewards, discipline and guidance. Parents who don’t care about their children don’t bother to instruct or direct them.

Our suffering, then, proves we are His children: "To you it is graciously granted … to be suffering for His sake, also" (Philippians 1:29). Count yourself loved and blessed when you’re going through trials. No one makes it out of this world before learning exactly what God put him or her on earth to learn: "[God] who undertakes a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6).

What a comfort to know that when we don’t understand why something is happening in our lives, to us and to our loved ones, we still have the assurance that God is working in us, molding and shaping us, perfecting us—right until the moment He snatches us away from this earth.

Finally, if our lives were perfect, we would think much too highly of ourselves—that somehow we had earned our fabulous lives and were such marvelous creatures. Therefore, suffering keeps us from being self-righteous, hypocritical, self-centered jerks. Now that’s definitely something to be grateful for!
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