This week we’re engaging in discussion about a theology of suffering answering two questions:
1. Is it God’s will for Christians to suffer?
2. What do we make of suffering caused by human pain and evil in general?
Today we’ll look at question #1.
First, I think we like to think of God as a divine person who doesn’t want anything bad to fall upon our doorstep and that if we are living the “right” way that we will have little or no big problems in our lives. I think first and foremost what God is interested in is developing faithful Christ-followers. What this means is that God is looking to produce mature, Spirit-led, persevering Christians. Part of the human development process is learning the lesson that life is not easy.
Romans 5:1-5 says, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
I believe that what these two passages can help us come to understand is that God does allow us to suffer in order to help us build a more godly character, a more firm trust in Him and his Word, and to help us be the perfect Bride for Christ when he comes back for us (Rev. 19:7-8). Also, we must remember that our enemy, Satan, is also trying to attack us and sometimes our suffering is caused because of his plans to do us harm but we must also remember God has given us tools for us to be ready (Eph. 6).
So basically am I entertaining the thoughts that God wants us to suffer? No. I don’t believe that God wants anyone to suffer. In fact, if you are not suffering for Christ don’t seek it out, but pray for those who are suffering. Suffering doesn’t make you more spiritual or a better Christian. America will not always be a place where Christians don’t suffer for Christ as dramatically as believers in India or the Middle East do.
Although, like I’ve stated God does use suffering for his glory and to shape us. In fact, I believe that God wishes (like I think we all do) that he was in perfect relationship with everyone so suffering did not have to exist. That is why he promises to believers that in Heaven, the New Jerusalem, there will be no more pain or suffering and that all things will be made new (Rev. 21:3-5).