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Questions about suffering are one of the most common topics raised by people struggling to accept the biblical concept of God as both all-powerful and all-loving. But the question addressed here is - ‘why does God allow Christians to suffer?’ Peter gives a strong answer to this question in 1Peter 1:6,7:

‘... for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even through refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.’

While suffering is the common human lot from which Christians are not exempt, Christians are God’s special, treasured possession – they are ‘holy’, set apart by God as his own. God is vitally and intimately interested in them. God is intent on their well-being. God’s purpose for them is good, not evil.

Any suffering that is experienced by Christians is therefore loaded with significance: it is endowed with holiness; it is endowed with a divine involvement; it is endowed with a good purpose.

From the Bible we learn that suffering is a two-fold platform:

[1] Suffering is a platform on which and from which the integrity of our faith is demonstrated and observed. It is easy to believe in God when everything is going well. But only genuine, God-given faith can endure intense or pro-longed suffering. Indeed ‘faith’ is rendered superfluous if every aspect of our lives is loudly shouting ‘Isn’t God great! Look at the great physical blessings he has obviously poured out on me!’ But when our world caves in, when everything we can see and feel is screaming at us that God is not there and God does not care, we have nothing left but faith. Faith that survives such suffering is faith indeed.

Note the devil’s accusation against Job:

‘Does Job fear God for nothing? ... Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands ... But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face’ [Job 1:10,11].

Note Job’s confidence in the integrity of his faith:

‘He knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold’ [Job 23:10].

Note Jesus’ exposure of fake faith:

‘But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away’ [Matthew 13:21].

Peter’s statement in verse seven similarly sees suffering as the platform upon which a Christian’s faith is demonstrated to be genuine.

[2] Suffering is a platform from which and through which we demonstrate and express compassion. The world is full of lost, broken, hurting people. It is crying out for help, for love, for understanding, for sympathy. If we as Christians never suffered, we would never, except in a very superficial way, be able to help people who are suffering. Those who have never suffered simply lack what it takes to empathize with those who are suffering.

So Paul states:

‘... the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God ...’ [2Cornithians 1:3,4].

And the incarnation teaches us:

‘In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God ... should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.’

‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have on who has been tempted in every way, just as we are ...’ [Hebrews 2:10; 4:15].

The incarnation both sanctifies and glorifies suffering. For the Christian, suffering is not a horror to be feared, nor is it an evidence or expression of God’s displeasure. Rather, as a platform upon which to demonstrate the integrity of our faith and from which to extend the compassion of Christ to a hurting world, it redounds to God’s glory and ours.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2017