Anyone who is in a trial naturally wants to know the reasons WHY they must suffer. But if you have lived long enough, you will find that one of the chief characteristics of suffering is that it is unreasonable. That is, if we use our natural mind, we cannot come up with reasons why we must suffer.
Suffering, by definition, always seems to carry with it the tormenting sense that it is unfair, needless, and all for naught.
Our entire perspective about trials, tragedy, and suffering is supposed to change once we become a child of God. But unfortunately, the view some Christians have of suffering doesn’t differ much from that of non-Christians. Indeed, today there are those who teach and believe that suffering is never the will of God. They teach that because Jesus Christ suffered, we don’t have to. Anything which causes suffering is said to be of the Devil, or due to a lack of faith on our part.
This is error. It is, in fact, about the worst kind of heresy we could embrace. Why? Because, as Christians, we are actually called to suffer. (see I Peter 2:21) So if we deny suffering as a part of God’s calling and will for our lives, then we will never be able to interpret what God is doing with us. We may even live in conflict with God’s calling, and could end up resisting His real purpose for us. God’s uses trials and suffering in our lives for a purpose. This is a Truth which is all through the Bible. That purpose is not a minor part of our calling and relationship with Jesus Christ. It is central to everything God is doing with us in this age. And what is that purpose? Trials and suffering are unto this end: To prepare us for the next age.
Living In Our Inheritance
Tradition has taught most of us that the purpose for life here, for a Christian, is to get saved and witness to others by preaching the gospel. Then, we are told; we will go to heaven and spend all eternity enjoying our reward. But while all of that is true — we must be saved, and we should become a witness unto Christ — it doesn’t really approach God’s real purpose. God is preparing us, not to simply sit back and enjoy a reward for all eternity, but to live and fellowship with Him in the next age. Notice Paul’s words to that effect to the Ephesians:
And He has raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. (Eph. 2:6-7)
We are recipients of a great, eternal inheritance through God’s grace in Jesus Christ. We are going to be spending the eternal ages experiencing God. But presently, we must grow to truly value Him, embrace Him, or understand Him. And we are certainly not spiritually adjusted for life with Him. That requires growth, and a process through which God can establish in us the necessary spiritual elements which will make it possible for us to live and fellowship with Him forever. This is what God is doing in those He calls unto salvation. He has freely given us all things in Christ. But now He is molding us into individuals through whom all of these things can be released and experienced. Don’t confuse our need to grow in the likeness of Christ with the fact that we have been saved. Salvation is merely the birth; the essential beginning. Through a saving faith in Jesus Christ we do receive all things by the grace of God. At that point there is nothing we lack, and no victory we need to win Ephesians 2:8 & 9. It really IS finished! But we still have no liveable possession of it. God compares the eternal life we possess in Christ to the natural life we possess in Adam. When we are born into this world as a human being, we aren’t born “partly alive,” or alive in only one aspect. We are alive in the flesh only! Period. But this does not mean we have the slightest idea what to do with life. Indeed, a newborn baby doesn’t even know anything about himself, let alone his environment. All of that must be learned. A baby must learn how to live in the realm into which he is born. So must those born into the kingdom of God. We are born into the kingdom all at once, and do receive ALL which Jesus has won. But we have to go on to learn and grow.
We have to become fitted to live with God forever! God uses trials and suffering to build into us the necessary eternal elements which will enable us to reign and rule with Him in His kingdom — not just during this age, but especially for the next. He is establishing in us only the bare seed, or elementary foundation. He has given us names for these: Faith, hope, love, and all of what we term “Christian character.” But it is over there, in the eternal ages, that the seeds He plants in us now will be released to their full potential in Jesus Christ.
Thus we see why God tells us we are called to suffer. Trials and suffering are unto a great, eternal purpose. They are preparing us for our inheritance in Christ, and adjusting us for life in the eternal ages.
Faith is the evidence of things not seen, and the substance of things hoped for. (see Heb. 11:1) Can we possibly grasp what this means? It means that there are realities and possessions which belong to us in Jesus Christ that we cannot fully know or experience in this life, but which are nevertheless part of our eternal inheritance. Faith is the evidence that we do possess them now, even if only in a unseen, barely developed form. Faith is the “substance” of them, a deposit which carries the full potential of our inheritance in Christ Jesus. The trial of faith is God’s means of adjusting us to our inheritance, so that in the eternal ages we might be able to live with Him, and experience all He has given us.
James 1:3-4, King James Version (KJV) 3. Knowing this, that the trying of your faith works patience. 4. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
The Eternal Ages
Think about it. If all God wanted to accomplish in our lives was the fact of our salvation, there would be no purpose for our living. In fact, the moment we received Christ, it would, in that case, be best if He simply took our life. We’d go right to heaven, and we would avoid all of the trials and suffering we otherwise must endure. The thirty-three plus years Jesus actually lived, and the untold suffering it entailed, would have been unnecessary. Yet it WAS necessary. Why? Because God needed more from Jesus than just a death. He needed a perfect Son of Man; a Lamb without blemish. This meant Jesus had to be faced with all of the things we are faced with – trials and suffering. As He overcame them by faith, He grew in God’s grace.
As Christians, we are also qualifying. But don’t misunderstand. We are not earning our inheritance. Neither are we qualifying so that we can receive it. No. We have already received it. We are qualifying to be able to live and experience it. We are like ignorant children who have received an inheritance far beyond our capacity to grasp. Therefore, God is doing a work in us – a moral and spiritual work – which is intended, not to earn us our inheritance, but to make us able to fully possess and use it unto God’s glory. We are actually learning how to be joint-heirs with Christ. That is awesome. We will actually inherit and reign with Him. This purpose for our suffering is all through scripture.
The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him, in order that we may also be glorified with Him. (Rom. 8:16-17)
If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him. (II Tim. 2:12)
If suffering were an end unto itself, meant only for this life, then it would be a dismal thing indeed. If spiritual growth, freedom in Christ, and all the things God wants to develop in us are merely for our life here, only to be wiped away at death, then why should we bother? Why would God care? The fact is, if we are suffering for this life only, then as Paul says, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” (I Cor. 15:19) Only a fool would suffer if it avails nothing. The message of the Bible, over and over, is that this life is nothing. It is only UNTO the next. God is absolutely committed to treating it like that. This doesn’t mean He takes any part of our life lightly. Certainly not our suffering. In fact, it really makes it all that more important in His eyes. But God always works with us in this life from the perspective of the eternal ages. He beckons us to begin seeing our life from that perspective as well.
For I reckon that the sufferings of this persent time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Rom. 8:18)