If we were honest, most of us would admit there are times we wonder – how could God let this happen? Where is God in all this? Whether it is an earthquake where thousands of people die or a family member who is sick or a global pandemic, or something else we naturally wonder, how could God allow this to happen?
In all reality, suffering is something that touches everyone at some point or another. We know that there is a God (Psalm 14:1) but sometimes we make the mistake of thinking God owes us a smooth sailing, comfortable life with little pain or suffering. If trials do come our way, we seem to think that God should fix them, and fix them fast. For those of us in Christ, however, our theology reminds us that we live in a Genesis 3 fallen world that is under God’s curse. And Jesus has promised us suffering and even persecution (John 16:33, 2 Timothy 3:12), not a bed of roses.
The past week has been particularly tough for our church family. With an increasing number of people testing positive for Covid-19, the “fiery trial” is real for us right now, especially for those who are sick as well as their families. For months we had been hearing about people with Coronavirus, but it had not touched us – till now. As a pastor, it has been encouraging to see the body of Christ rally around those who are suffering. Some have said, “I can’t imagine going through this without the Lord and without the family of God.” Amen.
While we can never fully know God’s purposes for our suffering, the Bible does give us 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 is a reminder that trials are not optional, but something we will all face. And when we face them, we are to rejoice. Yes, rejoice. These early Christians that James addressed had left everything to follow Christ, and were now facing intense persecution. His readers would need a very good reason as to why they should be joyful in the midst of suffering. That kind of response is not normal to human nature.
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 in our Christian faith (see Romans 5:3-5). It’s 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 know that if you are a child of the King, then God is using your suffering for the purposes of sanctification and Christian maturity. In this you can rejoice! Life may be hard for you right now, perhaps even very hard, but God will be your steadfast anchor of the soul, and He will use this for good. You can count on it!
Whatever you are going through, don’t miss this opportunity to see God at work and “rejoice in your sufferings” (Romans 5:3). We can be, as Paul puts it, “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). Until Jesus returns and defeats sin, Satan, and death for good, we are going to suffer and struggle and lament over this fallen world. But we do have a sure and certain hope that won’t disappoint us (1 Corinthians 15:19-20, Romans 15:13). During this time, cling to Jesus and know that God will give you the grace to endure your “furnace of affliction” (Isaiah 48:10) and so bring glory to His great name.