By Contributing Writer, Jeannette Paulson
We need a theology of suffering because we are all planted in rocky soil, and when suffering happens, we need encouragement to push our roots deep into the comforts and presence of God. Some of the best grapes in the world are grown around the foothills of Montsant, Spain. The soil is a mix of slate and quartz making it rocky and porous. This type of soil forces the roots to dig up to 25 yards down to find water and nutrients.
First we need to understand from Whom the trouble comes. Hebrews 12 says:
..the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives…. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline…then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
Ultimately we are at the mercy of God when we suffer. This does not mean that the devil has no power to harm us, but, as with Job, he must have permission.
This makes suffering for the believer intensely personal and relational. It is far from any pagan notion of an unjust, merciless, purposeless Fate. It has everything to do with our adoption as sons into the family of God. The One disciplining is not the schoolmaster at boarding school, but our Father who is good and gracious to His children.
An earthly father does not relish disciplining his son but knows that he must. So it is with our Heavenly Father. “He does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.” Lam 3:33. But neither is He an indulgent father.
Jesus said “Unless a kernel of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains a single seed. But if it dies, it brings forth much fruit.” Therefore suffering is necessary for our growth in grace, our perseverance, our fruitfulness and our enjoyment of God. What if He is enlarging our capacity to enjoy His love?
We may ask God to relieve our sufferings and work to solve the difficulties of our lives, but if God chooses to press us, we must bow and trust. Flower petals are crushed to make perfume.
How the Crushing Works
How does suffering produce various graces in a Christian? Take humility. We are prone to take credit for any obedience in our lives and quickly become conceited. To humble us, says John Calvin, God shows us from experience “not only our folly but also our extreme frailty.” Therefore He brings humiliation, poverty, death, or disease until we are buried in trouble and we “learn to call upon His strength.”
Trials also produce hope. When we see how God delivers, we are more apt to trust Him in the next trial. Patience is exercised when we wait upon God in the pain of trouble.
Similarly the believer should find joy in suffering — not because there is no pain and agony in sickness, death, poverty or insults — but because “we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior.” (1 Tim.4:10).
Spurgeon sings the praises of his sufferings:
“I am afraid that all the grace that I have got of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours might almost lie on a penny. But the good that I have received from my sorrows, and pains, and griefs, is altogether incalculable … Affliction is the best bit of furniture in my house. It is the best book in a minister’s library.”
Douglas Wilson wisely suggests we get up a greeting for suffering like “Hello, old friend.”
Trouble happens. Papa is disciplining us for a robust maturity that is humble, hopeful, fruitful and full of exceeding joy. He is hedging us in to Himself. Tell him, with the Puritans, “for thou art all, and to possess thee is to possess all.” Getting a Biblical theology of suffering will steel us against turning back and will give us deep roots.