Questions when suffering: For what purpose? (Part 4)

Questions enter our mind when we suffer.  “Is God seeking revenge on me?”  “Is God unfair?”  Remember what James 1:5 says: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” It’s okay to ask God questions;  just ask the right ones. 

The fourth question to ask God is, “For what reason are You allowing this?”  There is a reason for suffering that is allowed to touch our lives.  If God has not removed it (last blog), there has to be a purpose. 

Take Joseph as an example.  His brothers are jealous of him, sell him into slavery, and lie to their father that an animal killed him.  Later in Egypt, Joseph interprets the Pharaoh’s dreams and informs him that 7 years of famine are coming.  The wise course of action is to save food now.  When Joseph’s brothers find out that Egypt has food, they go there for help.

Joseph told his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).  Joseph knew there was a reason for God allowing him to be sent to Egypt as a slave–God had a bigger plan, to save many lives even as the brothers wanted to end Joseph’s.  From this we see that God can even work His will when sinful people exercise their free will.

Paul addressed this in Romans 8:28, which says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

So what good could God be working in bad times?  God allows suffering to strengthen and mature faith in Him.  James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  Paul says the same thing in Romans 5:3-5.  It reads, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

I’ve learned to ask another question when I’m searching for the reason that God is allowing bad times to invade my life.  If He is trying to strengthen faith, then I wonder, “What Christ-like characteristic is God trying to develop in me?”  As examples of godly traits, take the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23.  It says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

Just as a weightroom has specific machines and weights for exercising certain muscles, so God allows certain things to strengthen spiritual muscles.  If we do biceps curls, it strengthens the biceps.  Likeswise for triceps curls.  And just as “No pain, no gain” applies in the weightroom, so it is with God’s Gym of Christ-likeness.  The pain of suffering can lead to a gain in godly character.

Another verse that speaks to this is Hebrews 12:7-11.  It says, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!  Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

The Greek word for “trained” at the end is gumnaso.  We get the word “gymnasium” from that.  It is clear that suffering is God’s way of putting us through a spiritual workout to be trained in His gym of godliness.  “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.”

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