If we were honest with ourselves, most of us would admit there are times where we wonder – how could God let this happen? Whether it is an earthquake where thousands of people die or a family member who is sick, we wonder, why is God allowing this to happen? My intention is not to try and explain the problem of suffering (a massive project in itself), but I do want to acknowledge that suffering is something that every person will eventually experience. I think it is safe to say that in the midst of trial, most people direct their attention Godward. We seem to think that God can and should fix our pain and suffering. But is it possible that God might be up to something more than just numbing or eliminating our pain?
I don’t think we ever fully know God’s purposes for our suffering, but the Bible does give us some insight into the matter. James exhorts his readers to “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). This tells us that trials are not optional, but something we will face. And when we face them, we are to rejoice. This is remarkable given that the sufferings of James’ original audience were beyond what most of us in our modern context could ever imagine. Having left everything to follow Christ, they now faced intense persecution. Obviously, James’ readers would need a very good reason as to why they should be joyful in the midst of suffering. It’s simply not human nature to rejoice when life is tough. In a nutshell, James reasons that we can be joyful and happy in our trials because of what God is accomplishing in and through us. We can be joyful because he is working to grow and mature us through our suffering. How amazing to think that the sovereign God, who controls everything, uses the circumstances of life (even the bad things) to bring glory to His name and make us more like Jesus.
I don’t in any way want to minimize your pain and suffering. But I do want to tell you that if you are a child of the King, then you can know that God is using that trial for your sanctification. In this you can rejoice. Life may be hard for you right now, but God will see you through if you put your faith in Christ. As John Piper once put it: “Don’t Waste Your Cancer.” Whatever you are going through, don’t miss this opportunity to see God at work and to “count it all joy.”