How can you trust a God who lets you suffer?
That’s a question many people simply cannot get over, and frankly… it’s a good question! The problem of suffering is legit and real and difficult. Rather than attempting to “solve” the question, I hope to share what may be a fresh perspective.
If we approach the question of suffering with the expectation that God owes us happiness and comfort, then we need to admit we’re holding God to promises he never made. The “American Dream” is never promised anywhere in Scripture. In fact, there are many places where God promises his people they will suffer because of their righteousness.
Romans 8:28-29 is a much-quoted verse to bring comfort in the midst of suffering. Often it is shared in a way that says, “God will make it all ok. It will turn out good for you.” But that isn’t what this passage says. In fact, it says something much better…
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son….”
Like the silversmith who purifies silver in a furnace or with a blowtorch, the impurities come to the surface in the heat. When they are wiped away, the purified silver will reflect the silversmith’s face when he looks into it.
Suffering is the furnace of our godliness. It is the way God purifies his children so they reflect him more clearly in a sinful world.
The Promise of Romans 8:28: Conformed to the Image of Christ
This passage reminds us that Christians are people who are being restored in the image of God (through the good and especially through the bad). There are some teachings in Scripture that are so consistently emphasized from Genesis throughout Revelation they create a thread that binds the whole Bible together. This phrase “the image of God” is one of those threads (see my post about what it means to be created in the image of God).
The problem of suffering begs the question, “Why did God create, and why would suffering be a part of the human experience?”
- “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27 ESV)
- “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.” (1 Corinthians 15:49 ESV)
- “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2 ESV)
- “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” (Romans 8:29 ESV)
If godliness and reflecting His image is the purpose of creation, and if suffering makes us more like Christ… then suffering provides the context where we fulfill our very purpose.
I know many people who point to seasons of suffering as the period where their faith became real. It was through cancer, divorce, unemployment, broken relationships, or other trials where they clung to Christ in ways they had never known.
In the middle of suffering we rarely notice what God is doing, but pay attention – God is at work even there. Romans 8:28-29 reminds us that God has promised to sanctify us through the trials of life. His purpose for our lives will be accomplished and cannot be thwarted by anything. He will use “all things” for the greatest good in your life: that you would grow more like Christ Jesus.
Remember this: The very heart of Christianity is a story of suffering. God became one of us in Jesus Christ, he suffered and died on our behalf. If we are following Jesus, we should not be surprised when we find ourselves in the valley of the shadow of death. Jesus went to the cross and suffered much; and if we are becoming more like Christ then we should expect the same. But we should also expect the resurrection – we live with confident hope in God who raises the dead.
If you are in a comfortable season – give thanks to God. Enjoy it. Don’t feel guilty. But don’t fall into the trap of believing you’ve earned it. Use what you’ve been given to fuel worship and trust in Christ while seeking those ministry opportunities God provides. No one is blessed in order to hoard the blessing.
In the end, this is the question: What if you truly wanted to become more like Christ?
- How would your view of yourself, life, and the world be different?
- How would your family change?
- What would your involvement in your church look like?
- How would your calendar and budget be different?
- Who would you spend more time with, and who would you spend less time with?
- What attitudes would need to be repented of?