Thursday, October 25, 2012

36 Purposes of God in Our Suffering

When difficulties, trials, and suffering come in our lives, often the first question we ask is, "why?" How could God allow this? Why does God allow suffering at all? Could there be any purpose in suffering?

Joni Eareckson Tada knows hardship firsthand and shares her experiences and reflections on suffering in many of her books. The following is an appendix from her book When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty.
  1. Suffering is used to increase our awareness of the sustaining power of God to whom we owe our sustenance (Ps 68:19).
  2. God uses suffering to refine, perfect, strengthen, and keep us from falling (Ps 66:8-9; Heb 2:10).
  3. Suffering allows the life of Christ to be manifested in our mortal flesh (2 Cor 4:7-11).
  4. Suffering bankrupts us, making us dependent upon God (2 Cor 12:9).
  5. Suffering teaches us humility (2 Cor 12:7).
  6. Suffering imparts the mind of Christ (Phil 2:1-11).
  7. Suffering teaches us that God is more concerned about character than comfort (Rom 5:3-4; Heb 12:10-11).
  8. Suffering teaches us that the greatest good of the Christian life is not absence of pain, but Christlikeness (2 Cor 4:8-10; Rom 8:28-29).
  9. Suffering can be a chastisement from God for sin and rebellion (Ps 107:17).
  10. Obedience and self-control are from suffering (Heb 5:8; Ps 119:67; Rom 5:1-5; James 1:2-8; Phil 3:10).
  11. Voluntary suffering is one way to demonstrate the love of God (2 Cor 8:1-2, 9).
  12. Suffering is part of the struggle against sin (Heb 12:4-13).
  13. Suffering is part of the struggle against evil men (Ps 27:12; 37:14-15).
  14. Suffering is part of the struggle for the kingdom of God (2 Thess 1:5).
  15. Suffering is part of the struggle for the gospel (2 Tim 2:8-9).
  16. Suffering is part of the struggle against injustice (1 Pet 2:19).
  17. Suffering is part of the struggle for the name of Christ (Acts 5:41; 1 Pet 4:14).
  18. Suffering indicates how the righteous become sharers in Christ’s suffering (2 Cor 1:5; 1 Pet 4:12-13).
  19. Endurance of suffering is given as a cause for reward (2 Cor 4:17; 2 Tim 2:12).
  20. Suffering forces community and the administration of the gifts for the common good (Phil 4:12-15).
  21. Suffering binds Christians together into a common or joint purpose (Rev 1:9).
  22. Suffering produces discernment, knowledge, and teaches us God’s statutes (Ps 119:66-67, 71).
  23. Through suffering God is able to obtain our broken and contrite spirit which He desires (Ps 51:16-17).
  24. Suffering causes us to discipline our minds by making us focus our hope on the grace to be revealed at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Pet 1:6, 13).
  25. God uses suffering to humble us so He can exalt us at the proper time (1 Pet 5:6-7).
  26. Suffering teaches us to number our days so we can present to God a heart of wisdom (Ps 90:7-12).
  27. Suffering is sometimes necessary to win the lost (2 Tim 2:8-10; 4:5-6).
  28. Suffering strengthens and allows us to comfort others who are weak (2 Cor 1:3-11).
  29. Suffering is small compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ (Phil 3:8).
  30. God desires truth in our innermost being and one way He does it is through suffering (Ps 51:6; 119:17).
  31. The equity for suffering will be found in the next life (Ps 58:10-11).
  32. Suffering is always coupled with a greater source of grace (2 Tim 1:7-8; 4:16-18).
  33. Suffering teaches us to give thanks in times of sorrow (1 Thess 5:17; 2 Cor 1:11).
  34. Suffering increases faith (Jer 29:11).
  35. Suffering allows God to manifest His care (Ps 56:8).
  36. Suffering stretches our hope (Job 13:14-15).
Out of His deep love for us God is more interested in making His children like Christ than He is in making us comfortable. The glory He receives from redeeming depraved sinners like us and remaking us into His image will be the song that fills the halls of heaven for all eternity (Rev 5:9-10). Since that will be the case in the future, let us pursue joy in the Lord here in the present.

[HT: Counseling One Another]


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. Biblical responses to why suffering and pain in this life.

LB said...

None of these apply to the suffering of children.

Anonymous said...

I think suffering CAN increase faith, but sometimes, it just hastens rebellion for people who have the view that God is the cosmic Santa Claus / Easter Bunny who wants us to be happy. Which is why the church should work to dispel that notion. We need to make sure that people understand that God has a different will for us than our will for us, which is typically a selfish will.

Jonathan Deundian said...

This was excellent. Thanks

Wintery Knight-EXACTLY!!

MaryLou said...

I believe it was G. K. Chesterton who said that nothing keeps people from God more than the issues of suffering and evil. However, it disturbs me to see people use them as excuses to dismiss God. Until I recognized the holiness of God juxtaposed with my own sin, it bothered me a lot, too.

Then I was disabled in a car accident that left me with constant pain throughout my body. At first, I was furious with God. But I knew there are only two camps in this world -- God's and Satan's -- and I sure didn't want to be in the devil's. Therefore, I fought it out with the Lord. It was a battle that changed me as well as my understanding of suffering considerably. Now I can honestly say that I have experienced the reality of many of these verses in my life.

I understand what you're saying about the suffering of children, LB. It is hard to take. But I always remind myself that we live in a sin-fallen world and we all suffer because of it -- even little ones. And I do believe that kids can learn many of the lessons in the list above.

Years ago, a man told me that his son had rolled the car over in a ditch and walked away without a scratch. He then proclaimed that God is good. I immediately thought that, if the son had been killed, or severely brain-damaged or left a quadriplegic, God would still be good. It's part of his character. It does not change. But we have this tendency to think he is only good when he is doing what we want and when he removes suffering.

Those who fight him because of suffering are missing out on the opportunity to learn and grow and be blessed in the midst of it. It isn't easy, but it is necessary. Otherwise, suffering is completely wasted. It is one of the tools the Lord uses to make us more like Christ -- and that should be the goal of every Christian.

The cross represents the one true way of assessing the love of God. To use any other criteria can lead to estrangement with the Lord when it should result in praise and gratitude.

Anonymous said...

Please read "If God Is Real, Why Is There Suffering?" at

Patrick said...

The theodicy outlined below called “Theodicy from divine justice” provide some more Biblical arguments why God may let suffering happen:

(1) God’s perfect justice prevents Him from relieving people with unforgiven sins from their sufferings (see Isaiah 59,1-2).
(2) Unlike God Christians are not perfectly just. Therefore, unlike God, they are in a position to help people with unforgiven sins. By doing this they may make those among them who haven’t yet accepted God’s salvation receptive of it (Matthew 5,16, 1 Peter 2,11-12, and 3,1-2), which in turn frees these persons from suffering in the afterlife.
(3) The greater God’s beneficial power due to His love, the greater God’s destructive power due to His justice (see Matthew 13,27-29). Striving to prevent as much suffering as possible God can only interfere to such a degree that the beneficial effect of the interference is not neutralized by the destructive effect of it.
(4) Someone who dies before he or she reaches the age of accountability, i.e. before he or she can distinguish between good and evil (see Genesis 2,16-17, Deuteronomy 1,39, and Isaiah 7,16) faces no punishment in the afterlife, as he or she would not have been able to commit sins. So, God may not be inclined to prevent such a person’s death.
(5) A person’s suffering in this life may have a redeeming effect (Luke 16,25) and consequently contribute to a decrease of the respective person’s suffering in the afterlife; the amount of suffering in this life is so to speak subtracted from the amount of suffering in the afterlife. So, God may not be inclined to relieve this person’s suffering.
(6) A person’s suffering in this life may make the person receptive of God’s salvation (Luke 15,11-21), which in turn frees this person from suffering in the afterlife.
(7) There are degrees of punishment in the afterlife depending on one’s moral behaviour (Matthew 16,27, 2 Corinthians 5,10), one’s knowledge of God’s will (Matthew 11,20-24, Luke 12,47-48, John 15,22-25), and, as mentioned before, one’s amount of suffering in this life (Luke 16,25).
(8) Those people who suffer more in this life than they deserve due to their way of life are compensated for it by receiving rewards in Heaven.
(9) As for animal suffering, animals will be compensated for it on the “new earth” mentioned in Isaiah 65,17-25, 2 Peter 3,13 and Revelation 21,1.

By putting “Theodicy from divine justice” or the German equivalent “Theodizee aus der göttlichen Gerechtigkeit” in a web search engine one can see discussions of it in different blogs.

LB said...

MaryLou said, "And I do believe that kids can learn many of the lessons in the list above."

Very young children do not learn lessons from suffering. They simply suffer. There is no rational way to reconcile the concept of an omnipotent, loving God with the suffering of innocents.

Anonymous said...

Young children tend to be too young to understand What suffering is, why they suffer, and how to cope. That's the whole point of growing up and maturing, It's a lot more complex than just "simply suffering" a lot of factors come into play depending on a lot of things, like reasons behind suffering. The concept of an omnipotent loving God reconciles with suffering when you add sin into the equation, and how it causes and brings about suffering, the fact that God, despite our shortcomings, still loves us and calls us to to repent and have a relationship with him is what defines christianity and is far more welcoming to a broken person than any other worldview.

MaryLou said...

I do understand the problem you have with seeing little ones suffer, LB. However, we are all born with sin natures. That means that we are all born estranged from God and no one, not even a baby, is innocent and pure -- not by God's standards of perfection. Ontologically-speaking, a newborn is a sinner just as much as an adult is.

It does not necessarily follow that a loving God HAS to remove suffering and that, if he doesn't, that makes him unloving.

In reality, God could have left us in our sin, permanently estranged from him. He could have turned his back on us and let us to destroy each other and ourselves. It is precisely because he IS loving that he did not do that, but sent Christ to die in our place, atone for our sins and offer salvation to anybody who wants it -- no matter how great his or her sins. It is sin that is at the root of suffering, not God.

It wasn't until I began to understand the holiness of God that I realized that sin is such a major affront to him. His perfect sense of justice demands punishment. He cannot ignore sin. But it was a hard lesson to learn and I did not learn it overnight.

In fact, there was a time when I didn't think it was fair that a "nice" person such as myself had been disabled and left in constant pain because of a horrific car accident that wasn't even my fault. It was only through much study, much prayer and much interaction with God that I finally began to grasp the fact that, while I was "nice" in human terms, compared to a Holy God, the "righteousness" that I had was nothing but filthy rags, just as it says in Is. 64:6.

And I realized the following about Jesus and the issue of fairness. When the Pharisees saw him performing miracles and they said that his power came from the devil, Jesus didn’t say, “It isn’t fair!” He just kept on performing miracles.

When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, waiting for Judas to betray him and the soldiers to arrest him, he didn’t say, “It isn’t fair!” He said, “Father, not my will, but Yours be done.”

When Jesus was beaten and spat on and mocked at his trial, he didn’t say, “It isn’t fair!” In fact, he didn’t say anything at all.

And when they nailed Jesus to the cross and he was slowly, painfully suffocating to death, he didn’t say, “It isn’t fair!” He said, “Father, forgive them, because they don’t know what they’re doing.”

So who am I to say that God hasn’t been fair to me when Jesus, who was perfect, who committed no sin, who was love personified, suffered that awful, awful death so that I could have eternal life with Him in heaven?

What really isn’t fair is this: It isn’t fair that Jesus took that beating, endured that humiliation, and agonized on that cross for a sinner like me. That’s what isn’t fair.

And the day I realized that was the day that I stopped complaining to God about my not deserving chronic health problems and started praising him for His gift of salvation, a gift that I really don’t merit. I am so grateful that God is more than fair and that he showed us his mercy and grace in the person of Jesus.

Mercy is God not giving us what we deserve -- death because of our sin. Grace is God giving us what we don't deserve -- salvation in spite of our sin. Mercy and grace shown to sinners -- that's what the love of God is all about.

I also discovered that, while a loving God doesn't have to end my suffering, a loving God WILL help me to endure it, learn from it and become more Christ-like because of it. As I said, the only way to accurately assess God's love is to look at the cross of Christ. If you use false criteria -- like God's allowance of suffering -- then you will always misjudge the Lord and miss out on what is the best thing in life, namely, an intimate relationship with him now and forever.

LB said...


I'm very sorry about the difficulties you've had to endure and I'm truly glad that your beliefs have provided you with some comfort.

MaryLou said...

Thanks, LB. The interesting thing is that I once asked God why he didn't heal me. He answered me in a way I never would have imagined. He made me feel what he feels at my suffering. It was the deepest sorrow I have ever felt. I realized that Jesus has felt and continues to feel every pain, emotional and physical, that I have.

I do think God is more interested in our spiritual health than our physical health. After all, the body is only temporary. It's the spirit that's eternal. If it remains dead in sin, that is the worst thing that can happen to anybody -- far worse than anything that can happen to us physically in this life.

The issue of suffering is an emotional one and I don't think the most brilliant intellectual arguments will necessarily do the trick for anybody who is really hurting, especially if it's his or her own child who is suffering.

I have a nephew with a rare disorder that entails many physical problems and which may prevent him from reaching adulthood. But we can either walk with him through it all with God's help or do it in our own power which is considerably less. Therefore, we have chosen the former and, as my sister says, we will cherish him for as long as we have him.

And, for the Christian, there is always the realization that separations are only temporary, that we can all be together in heaven one day for eternity. The problems of this world are only temporary.

Thomas Larsen said...


"I do understand the problem you have with seeing little ones suffer, LB. However, we are all born with sin natures. That means that we are all born estranged from God and no one, not even a baby, is innocent and pure -- not by God's standards of perfection. Ontologically-speaking, a newborn is a sinner just as much as an adult is."

What led you to that conclusion?

"I do think God is more interested in our spiritual health than our physical health. After all, the body is only temporary. It's the spirit that's eternal. If it remains dead in sin, that is the worst thing that can happen to anybody -- far worse than anything that can happen to us physically in this life."

Just out of curiosity, do you agree that God will bodily raise the dead?

MaryLou said...

Hi, Thomas!

When I say that a baby is a sinner just as an adult is, I'm talking about the doctrine of original sin. We are all born with sin natures and, therefore estranged from God.

Yes, I agree that God will bodily raise the dead at which time we who have followed Jesus will have glorified bodies that will not grow sick or die. I'm looking forward to that!

I do believe that, in this life, God uses suffering, including physical suffering and health problems, to increase our faith and to teach us dependence on him, humility, compassion, etc. As C. S. Lewis put it, pain is the megaphone God uses to get our attention. It certainly got mine!

Prior to my health problems, I trusted God for my salvation, but I was totally focused on myself. I decided what I wanted to do and then I asked God to bless it. I never asked him what his will was and what he wanted from me and for me. It was only when I had the bad car accident that I started to seek him and his will. I realized he was asking me to do what Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane -- tell him not my will, but his.

That is why I say he is more interested in our spiritual health than our physical health. He can and does use suffering of all kinds, including physical suffering, to mature us and make us more Christ-like. I have friends who believe that God wants us all healed and healthy. While I know that he can and will heal some, he doesn't heal all. That's because all of our walks are individual and he works with us all in different ways.

LB said...

Thomas Larsen: "Just out of curiosity, do you agree that God will bodily raise the dead?"

Also just out of curiousity, where were you going with this question?

Unknown said...

Suffering of children may depend on many things, which we may not even know on our time or after the suffering. Example one woman experienced death of her child's death and didn't know reason for God allowing it. He saw a vision where sheperd took small sheep on his shoulders and crossed over bridge to another field and rest of sheeps followed. This meant that by her child's death many people got saved. Is this right for God allowing? Well God makes life and owns it, so He can take it and also children gets saved for couple reasons.

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