What’s Good About Suffering?
It seems utterly non sequitur to connect the notion of good with suffering. We naturally recoil at that thought. Yet the two are intimately related in Christianity. The beginning and end of the Bible tell of a time when this connection did not exist. God’s original creation did not include suffering and it was said by the Creator to be very good. The Bible ends with the promise of a future time when there will be no more suffering. But most everything in between, from Genesis to Revelation, includes suffering.
Tim Keller explains in his excellent book on suffering, “Suffering is at the very heart of the Christian faith. It is not only the way Christ became like and redeemed us, but it is one of the main ways we become like him and experience his redemption.” I believe this says that Christianity doesn’t really work without suffering.
I would be the first to admit this is counter intuitive. I must also confess my first response to suffering and trials is not rejoicing. However, by God’s grace I generally always get there, eventually. The step prior to rejoicing, or counting it all joy as James puts it, is to recognize God is at work for good in our suffering.
Choosing to believe what the Bible reveals about the goodness of God is key. Doubting the goodness of God led to the single most catastrophic event in the history of humanity. All suffering today follows from the failure of Adam and Eve to trust God as good.
In Adam we inherit a broken world and a life that includes suffering. In Christ we inherit eternal life and the promise of God in his goodness to make all things new. As citizens of the kingdom of God we know there will be an end to all our suffering. It was through Christ’s suffering that he secured for us the end of suffering.
Through suffering God brought about the ultimate good for all who follow Christ. The stated goal of the Apostle Paul was to know Christ in the fellowship of his sufferings. Paul understood that it was through suffering that he would be transformed into the likeness of Christ. He also knew that God was up to something good through Paul’s suffering. So like the Psalmist before him, Paul could hope in God. In Christ we know that our hope through suffering is not in vain. Especially through suffering God is bringing good to fruition in the lives of all who love God.