Five Purposes for Suffering
For those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
We seldom know the micro reasons for our sufferings, but the Bible does give us faith-sustaining macro reasons.
It is good to have a way to remember some of these so that, when we are suddenly afflicted, or have a chance to help others in their affliction, we can recall some of the truths God has given us to help us not lose hope.
Here is one way to remember: 5 R’s (or if it helps, just pick three and try to remember them).
The macro purposes of God in our sufferings include:
Repentance: Suffering is a call for us and others to turn from treasuring anything on earth above God. Luke 13:4–5:
“Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Reliance: Suffering is a call to trust God and not the life-sustaining props of this world. 2 Corinthians 1:8–9:
We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.
Righteousness: Suffering is the discipline of our loving heavenly Father so that we come to share his righteousness and holiness. Hebrews 12:6, 10–11:
“The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” . . . He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Reward: Suffering is working for us a great reward in heaven that will make up for every loss here a thousandfold. 2 Corinthians 4:17:
This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.
Finally, Reminder: Suffering reminds us that God sent his Son into the world to suffer so that our suffering would not be God’s condemnation but his purification. Philippians 3:10:
. . . that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings.
So, it is understandable that the Christian heart would cry out in suffering, “Why?” since we don’t know most of the micro reasons for our suffering — why now, why this way, why this long? But don’t let that ignorance of the micro reasons cause you to overlook the massive help God gives in his word by telling us his macro purposes for us.
“You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 5:11).