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The purpose of suffering

The purpose of suffering
Posted on June 5, 2019  - By Dr. Kevin Warstler

In an effort to communicate the Gospel to unbelievers, Christians will sometimes present an incorrect characterisation of the joys and benefits of the Christian life. Statements such as, “Believe in Jesus Christ and everything will go well for you,” or “Your life will be so much better if you just accept Jesus as your Saviour” are, at times, used as motivation to embrace the Gospel.

The problem is that while these statements are made with good intentions, they do not accurately represent the teaching of Scripture. Scripture teaches that believers can — and do — suffer, even when there is no particular sin or problem with their faith. And the most extensive development of this concept is the book of Job.

The testing of Job

Job was a faithful follower of the Lord (Job 1:1) and yet, he experienced suffering. In fact, the reason for the suffering was based on his faithfulness to God. In Job 1:8, God is the one to tell Satan that Job is the perfect example of a blameless man. This prompts Satan to challenge God with the notion that Job’s righteousness is a result of God’s blessings in his life. The argument is that only those who are blessed by God will be faithful to Him. Such a dispute would not be so alarming — except that God gives Satan authority over Job’s possessions, family, and eventually even his health in order to prove His point. Satan takes away all of the things that are part of God’s blessings in Job’s life in an attempt to cause Job to turn away from God. The end result is that Job did not sin or turn away from God (Job 1:22; 2:10) — even when every good thing was removed from his life.

Job did not sin or turn away from God — even when every good thing was removed from his life

Now while it is true that no sane person would ever desire to be in Job’s place, there are many faithful followers of the Lord who are suffering without any specific sin as the cause. In these cases, knowing the Lord and being faithful to Him do not prevent suffering in their lives. It is quite possible that their strong relationship with the Lord intensifies the suffering, because they cannot know the reasons for it — yet, they have trusted in a God whom they believe to be faithful and good. This might be discouraging, but the book of Job provides some principles that are helpful in understanding the purpose and significance of suffering in the lives of believers.

Remember these truths

God always has a purpose behind suffering — even though we do not know what it is. Job is the best example of a purpose for suffering that no one would guess without being told. Job’s friends believe the reason is that Job must have sinned. Job’s fourth friend, Elihu, provides some variety by suggesting that suffering can prevent sin, but even this is not the real reason in Job’s case. Nevertheless, by providing the reason to the readers of the book, it is evident that God has His purposes.

But just knowing that God has purposes in suffering is not always enough to bring comfort. Suffering is part of our spiritual development and relationship with the Lord. In other words, suffering is used to teach us more about God and our relationship to Him. This might not be as obvious in Job, but it is if one looks carefully at the development of his relationship with the Lord. The frustrating thing about Job’s friends is how stagnant they are; they do not seem to develop at all but are stuck in the same mode throughout the speeches. On the other hand, Job changes over the course of the book. He desires to find God (Job 23:1-12) and, when God appears, it seems to satisfy Job in a way that giving reasons for his suffering would not have done.

Times of suffering should be seen as opportunities to draw closer to the Lord and to learn dependence upon Him. Job was not satisfied with his friends’ characterisation of God, because he knew from his own experience that it was wrong. The only way he could know God was to find Him and learn directly from Him. Job learned to depend upon the Lord alone and not on others. Sometimes, God will strip us of everything that gives us security in order to bring us closer to Himself. We should see our suffering as an opportunity to draw closer to the Lord — even when we do not know the reasons for it.

Dr. Kevin Warstler

About Dr. Kevin Warstler

Kevin Warstler received his Th.M. in New Testament Studies and Ph.D. in Old Testament Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary. Currently, he is an Associate Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at Criswell College in Dallas, Texas, where he also serves as the Program Director for the B.A. in Biblical Studies.



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