Table of Contents
As we are nearing the end of this study, I hope this has been beneficial and gives you peace that passes our human understanding (see Philippians 4:7). You can find a listing of previous chapters under the heading Bible Studies in the menu above. Unless otherwise noted, the Scriptures Alcorn uses are from the NIV Bible.
God is the Source of All Goodness
We must understand that God is the source of all goodness, and his glory is the wellspring of all joy. What God does for his own sake benefits us. Therefore, whatever glorifies him it’s good for us.
And that includes the suffering he allows or brings (biblically, either or both terms can apply) into our lives.
God refines us in our suffering and graciously explains why:
“See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this.”
– Isaiah 48:10
Notice for emphasis, God repeats the reason “for my own sake“.
If you don’t understand that the universe is about God and his glory and that whatever exalts God’s glory also works for our ultimate good, then you will misunderstand this passage and countless others.
Some consider God egotistical or cruel to test us for his sake. However, the testing he does for his sake accrues to our eternal benefit. Moreover, how often have you heard people say, “I grew closest to God when my life was free from pain and suffering”?
The Refining Process
Suffering can help us grow and mature.
Joseph Tyson who faced much evil in communist Romania, told Alcorn
“This world, with all its evil, is God’s deliberately chosen environment for people to grow in their characters. The character and trustworthiness we form here, we take with us there, to heaven. Romans and 1 Peter 3:19 make clear that suffering is a grace from God. It is a grace given us now to prepare us for living forever.”
We learn to excel by handling failure. Only in cultivating discipline, endurance, and patience do we find satisfaction and reward.
If cancer or paralysis or a car accident prompts us to draw on God’s strength to become more conformed to Christ, then regardless of the human, demonic, or natural forces involved, God will be glorified in it.
There are times when God uses suffering to punish evil.
While personal suffering doesn’t always come as a punishment for sin, this doesn’t mean it never does.
“Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord…”
– 1 Corinthians 11:27-32
“When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.”
– Psalm 32:3-4
“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.”
– Revelation 3:19
- God struck Gehazi, Elisha’s servant with leprosy for lying and for accepting material gifts under false pretenses (see 2 Kings 5:20-27).
- God struck down Herod for his pride and arrogance for accepting praise that belongs to God alone (see Acts 12:19-23).
- God struck down Ananias and his wife Sapphira because they lied to the Holy Spirit (see Acts 5:1-11).
God can use suffering to display his work in us.
Jesus told his disciples:
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus,
“but this happened so that the works of God
might be displayed in him.”
– John 9:3
Suffering in this life is part of our God-given destiny:
“We sent Timothy… to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them.”
– 1 Thessalonians 3:2-3
“So then, those who suffer according to God’s will,
should commit themselves to their faithful Creator
and continue to do good.”
– 1 Peter 4:19
Read the statistics on persecution :
God may use suffering to form us into the image of Christ.
As Michelangelo used his chisel to form David from a marble block so God may use suffering to form us into the image of Christ. God also used Christ’s suffering, not just his death, to accomplish a purpose.
“Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” – Hebrews 5:8
In the context of suffering God says we are:
“…Predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his son.” – Romans 8:29
Here are 15 ways God uses suffering for our benefit. He uses our suffering to:
- purge sin from our lives.
- strengthen our commitment to him.
- force us to depend on his grace.
- bind us together with other believers.
- produce discernment.
- foster sensitivity.
- discipline our minds.
- impart wisdom.
- stretch our hope.
- cause us to know Christ better.
- make us long for truth.
- lead us to repentance of sin.
- teach us to give thanks in times of sorrow.
- increase our faith.
- strengthen our character.
Once he accomplishes such great things, often we can see that our suffering has been worth it.
God doesn’t simply want us to feel good he wants us to be good and very often the road to being good involves not feeling good.
God Sustains Us While We’re Being Refined
God can bear the full weight of our pain and give us strength and life when we feel only weakness and death. Here’s an amazing truth:
“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
– 1 Peter 5:7
GOD the Creator of the universe
CARES ABOUT US!
Think about that for a few million years…
The Lord does not call us merely to release our anxiety to him but to willingly cast it upon him, not some of it, but all of it. God wants us to trust him in both the big things and the little things.
Even Paul had moments of anxiety and stated:
“For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For 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.”
– 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, ESV – emphasis added
God uses suffering to break us of self-dependence and bring us to rely on him. Jesus said,
“Apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:5
Based on what God has given us in Christ, we can be sure he will give us all we need to endure all evil and suffering. Nothing in this world or outside it will ever separate us from God’s love.
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life,
neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,
neither height nor depth
nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God
that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
– Romans 8:38-39
God Already Has Proven His Eternal Love
May he give us eyes to see how he demonstrates that love in hundreds of ways, most of which we take for granted. In suffering God shows us his goodness, grace, and compassion.
“The Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore,
he will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!”
– Isaiah 30:18
“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger,
abounding in love.”
– Psalm 103:8
“As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.”
– Psalm 103:13-14
Sometimes God intervenes by removing our suffering.
Often, he comforts us in our suffering.
Sometimes he holds our hands
as he brings us home
to the perfect world, he’s made for us.
We can give thanks in everything precisely
because we have God’s promise that in everything
he works for our good.
God Always has a Purpose for Our Benefit
A friend told Alcorn that his grown daughter, sometime after her sister’s murder, had great difficulty sleeping. She asked her dad to pray that God would let her sleep. He read to her a passage about giving thanks in everything (see Philippians 4:6) His friend told his daughter:
“I know this sounds crazy but rather than praying that you’d be healed of insomnia, I think you need to thank God that you have to face this insomnia. If you don’t mean it, tell him you don’t, but that you’re going to keep saying it anyway and ask him to help you mean it.”
He understood that God had a purpose for her insomnia that might not be fulfilled if the Lord simply took it away.
A few weeks later she told him that the process of thanking God, which she found very difficult, made her admit her anger at God for what happened to her sister. When she did this, she said, she’d immediately started weeping, Then she added, “Something inside me broke.” While she wept, she fell asleep and for the first time in ages slept through the night. She hasn’t suffered from insomnia since.
This woman finally embraced her suffering, seeing it as God’s way of speaking to her, instead of just trying to wish it or pray it away. God used her pain to heal both of her primary problems, anger, and her secondary problem insomnia.
Our Suffering can Draw us to God
Broken hearts more readily recognize their need for God’s grace. Sometimes God delivers us from suffering, and other times he sustains us through suffering.
Sometimes God calms the storm, and sometimes he calms the heart. Both are acts of grace, and both should prompt us to praise him.
There are occasions when God uses others’ deaths to get our attention, humble us, and turn us back to him. Suffering should draw our attention to the ugliness of sin and its poisonous effects.
We cannot understand evil and suffering without understanding creation, the Fall, and redemption. While we often don’t grasp the purposes of a particular event or affliction, we understand that suffering exists because evil exists. God promised death would follow disobedience and a world of death means a world of suffering.
In Romans 6:23 we must understand the phrase “The wages of sin is death” to appreciate the one that follows: “But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
To grasp redemption’s meaning, we must see the devastation of the sin from which God redeems us. Suffering, as sin’s consequence, points us back to sin’s ugliness.
How horrible should we expect suffering to be? As horrible as sin. No less.
Our Sin is a Greater Horror
Suffering should prompt us to see our sin as a greater horror than the suffering sin causes. While sin doesn’t directly cause all our suffering, if we were not sinners, our world would not know suffering. Therefore, regardless of its reasons, both our suffering and that of others should always cause us to hate sin.
Though God tells us the wages of sin is death, he graciously delays sin’s payday, giving us time to repent and turn to him for eternal life. However, that very delay can allow us to live under the illusion that we are not such great sinners or that sin will go unpunished.
Evil alienates us from God, cutting us off from the Source of all goodness. Suffering serves as the hard, cold wake-up call that tells us how wretched we are without God. Though it does not seem a grace, suffering leads us to repentance, humility, and trust in God.
Suffering Deepens Our Faith
Satan wishes to destroy our faith through suffering. God desires to refine it. Suffering in a life spent pleasing God often looks indistinguishable from persecution. (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-28). The point is not the degree of evil intended against us but our faithfulness in suffering. Therefore, regardless of why we suffer, God can use it to deepen our faith:
“But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ,
so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed…
those who suffer according to God’s will,
should commit themselves to their faithful Creator
and continue to do good.”
– 1 Peter 4:13,19
Instead of blaming doctors, drunk drivers,
and criminals for our suffering,
we should look for what God can accomplish through it.
Faithful believers who have endured intense suffering say, “Hang on to God and don’t let go.”
While it’s not always easy to trust God in suffering, it’s always possible. Suffering produces in us qualities that otherwise would never develop.
As many accident victims know, rehabilitation can be long and excruciating. People commonly get angry at their physical therapist though she’s acting in their best interest. Sometimes we may resent God for imposing unwanted difficulties on us.
However, if we see through the lens of eternity that resentment changes to thanksgiving for making us better and ultimately happier people. Even if it costs us temporary pain and extreme inconvenience.
Suffering Teaches Us To Trust
Seeing positive outcomes of some suffering should lead us to trust that God can bring good from all suffering. A new depth of character emerges from the trust developed in suffering.
Suffering Brings Us Into Deeper Intimacy With God
It was during extreme suffering that Job saw a remarkable vision of his Redeemer and expressed his certainty that after death, in a redeemed body, he would see God with his own eyes (see Job 19:25-27). He cried, “How my heart yearns within me!”
In Heaven, God will forever destroy the barriers of sin between redeemed human beings and himself. We will look into his eyes and see what we’ve always longed to see: the person who made us for his own good pleasure. In seeing God, we will clearly see everything else for the first time.
God Uses Suffering to Make Us Thankful
It seems counterintuitive to give thanks in suffering. However, God commands it and countless people have benefited from it. Getting in touch every day with God’s grace, and learning to thank him for the small things, serves us well when we lose big things. It deepens our reservoir and gives us eyes to see God’s faithfulness and blessings at a time when we most need clear vision.
Psalm 107 begins:
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; His love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord say this.”
The psalmist details the sufferings of God’s people, wandering in desert wastelands, without homes, hungry and thirsty. Verse 6 continues:
“Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distresses.”
For their deliverance, he says,
“Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men,
for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.” (verses 8-9).
Gratitude never comes from avoiding difficulty but from finding yourself sustained through it.
The degree of joy rises to the degree of gratitude,
and the level of gratitude corresponds to the level of suffering.
God’s sustaining Providence always brings relief, even when life grows especially difficult. Once in God’s presence, we’ll find it staggering how little gratitude we expressed for the vastness of God’s goodness and grace.
God Uses Suffering to Cultivate Humility
Happy are the humble! Humility begins with recognition of our own evil. When speaking of the human condition, we generalize easily: “All people are sinners.” Moreover, we even admit, “I am a sinner.” Yet we excel as exception-finders: “What I did just looked bad; I had a good reason for doing it. Let me explain…”
The question is, will we trade our rationalization for his scares? The wounds that should have been inflicted upon us.
You may think, I refuse to accept that suffering can prove worthwhile, but your rejection of God’s goodness will not make you better or happier; it will only bring resentment and greater pain.
Accept health as God’s blessing
and its absence as God’s severe mercy.
Suffering can get our attention and lead us to repentance and transformation. C. S. Lewis said,
“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
“… I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—yet now I am happy,
not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance.
For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed…”
– 2 Corinthians 7:8-9.
God intended to help these erring believers by drawing them back to him through their pain. God uses suffering to bring us to the end of ourselves and back to Christ. And that is worth any cost.
Suffering exposes idols in our lives
Suffering uncovers our trust in God-substitutes and declares our need to transfer our trust to the only One who can bear its weight. God laments,
“My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me, the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”
– Jeremiah 2:13
We may imagine God as our genie who comes to do our bidding. However, suffering wakes us up to the fact that we serve him, not he us.
“The name of the Lord is a fortified tower;
the righteous run to it and are safe.
The wealth of the rich is their fortified city;
they imagine it a wall too high to scale.”
– Proverbs 18:10-11
God uses any means necessary to tear down whatever we hide behind. Be it your:
- athletic or artistic or musical accomplishments
- prize roses
- best in show spaniel
- or anything else…
Material possessions may be your fortified city or your imaginary unscalable wall.
But anything less than God himself will come up short.
By His grace, you can discover this now instead of after you die when it’s too late to turn to him.
Suffering Reminds us of our Inability to Control life
We must relinquish our belief that we can prevent all bad things from happening. In any crisis, we should lose our trust in the world and in ourselves and celebrate our trust in God.
Diseases, accidents, and natural disasters remind us of our extreme vulnerability;
Life is out of our control.
God reminds us,
“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”
– Psalm 24:1
What we think belongs to us really doesn’t.
“ ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”
– Haggai 2:8
We don’t even belong to ourselves.
“You are not your own; you were bought at a price.”
– 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
It becomes much easier to trust God when we understand that what he takes away belongs to him in the first place.
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;”
– Job 1:21
Suffering Draws Independent People to Faith and Teaches them Dependence on Christ
We come into this world needy, and we leave it the same way. Without suffering we would forget our neediness. If suffering seems too high a price for faith, it’s because we underestimate faith’s value.
J.B. Phillips New Testament translates James 1:2-4:
“When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers,
don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends!
Realise that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance.
But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed,
and you will find you have become men of mature character…”
In the West with our conspicuous prosperity and ease, Christianity’s popularity continues to shrink.
In Africa, Asia, and South America with much greater adversity and suffering, it continues to grow.
Joseph Tyson nearly martyred in Ceaușescu’s Romania, told me that 95% of Christians pass the test of adversity while 95% fail the test of prosperity.
Why do God’s children undergo pressure, suffering, and deadly peril? Paul answers clearly “that we might not rely on ourselves but on God.” – 2 Corinthians 1:11
Suffering shows us who we are
so we can see what we need to become,
and it can prepare us for eternity.
Faithful Endurance Builds Christlikeness
The evils and suffering we face are steep hills that increase our spiritual lung capacity; resistance builds our endurance. The Bible says of the righteous man:
“That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither
—whatever they do prospers.”
– Psalms 1:3
God uses disappointments and suffering to train us to share His Holiness and righteousness. Not all discipline is designed to correct sin its purpose may be to cultivate righteousness. An athlete doesn’t train just to fix the problem, he trains to improve his condition.
“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children.
For what children are not disciplined by their father?
If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—
then you are not legitimate,
not true sons and daughters at all.
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 spirits and live!
They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best;
but God disciplines us for our good,
in order 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.”
– Hebrews 12:7-11
The farmer works long hard hours each day anticipating the eventual harvest. This coming harvest motivates him and brings him joy. Looking at our suffering is like looking at row after row of crops that need weeding and watering. It seems like endless work. Yet God calls upon us to look beyond the days and seasons’ work to the coming harvest.
Scripture promises, “God disciplines us for our own good.” He doesn’t miscalculate, doesn’t make mistakes, and will never look back at what he brings in allows in our lives and say, “If I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t do that.”
A Quick Recap
32 Reasons Why God Allows Suffering in Our Lives
I found in these three chapters 32 reasons why God would allow suffering in our lives. You may find more. If you think of other reasons please add them in the comment section below.
God uses our suffering to:
- Bind us together with other believers.
- Break our self-dependence and bring us to rely on Him.
- Bring us into deeper intimacy with Him.
- Cause us to know Christ better.
- Cultivate humility in us.
- Deepen our faith.
- Discipline our minds.
- Display his work in us.
- Draw independent people to faith and teach them dependence on Christ.
- Expose idols in our lives (uncover our trust in God-substitutes).
- Force us to depend on his grace.
- Form us into the image of Christ.
- Foster sensitivity.
- Help us grow and mature.
- Impart wisdom.
- Increase our faith.
- Lead us to repentance of sin and transformation.
- Cause us to long for truth.
- Make us thankful.
- Prepare us for eternity.
- Produce discernment.
- Punish evil.
- Purge sin from our lives.
- Remind us of our inability to control life.
- Serve as a wake-up call that tells us how wretched we are without God and draw us to God.
- Show us who we are so we can see what we need to become.
- Strengthen our character.
- Strengthen our commitment to him.
- Stretch our hope.
- Teach us to give thanks in times of sorrow.
- Teach us to trust Him.
- Train us to share His holiness and righteousness.
Maranatha! Until next time, I am Passionately Loving Jesus, the Anchor of my Soul.
 C. S. Lewis The Problem of Pain (New York: Macmillan, 1962), 93.