The Meaning and Purpose of Suffering - Part 4

In this series, we emphasized how suffering is part of human life, not because God delights in seeing His creature suffer but because it is a consequence of mankind’s rebellion against the Holy God. Ultimately, the entry of suffering into God’s perfect creation in Eden is part of His sovereign and eternal plan to exalt Jesus Christ as the only hope and salvation of mankind. In the same way, it gears man to understand his limitations and seek the glory of God as his Supreme Ruler, Sustainer and Savior. This is the privilege of those who obey the gentle call of the Savior to come to Him and obtain rest. But why is it that even believers experience suffering after they came to the knowledge of Christ? Our final article in this series will point that suffering is part of God’s sanctification process so that we will grow in faith and obedience, and have a renewed eagerness for Christ’s second coming. 

SANCTIFICATION

God's ultimate goal for believers on earth is sanctification (2 Tim. 2:21; 1 Thess. 5:23; John 17:17; 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 2:20). According to A.W. Pink, in his book, Studies in the Scriptures, the Bible points to sanctification as God’s active participation in cleansing those who were chosen for His use and for His glory. Thus, He sanctifies believer in order to purify them from the love of the world, the love of self, and from the remaining work of sin in their earthly bodies (Pink 318-319). Any genuine Christian understands that such purging is what he needs every day. He knows that the enemies of his soul are still active, despite their defeat when the Lord Jesus died on the cross, was buried, and rose again on the third day. Yes, the enemy can no longer snatch believers from the hands of God (Jn. 10:29), yet the devil and his cohorts can still tempt them to forget that they are already saved from sin and death (Rom. 6:3-14). So, at times when the believer starts to enjoy the pleasures of this world and is returning to the sins that his flesh has thrived on for so long, God protects His child by allowing him to experience suffering – suffering aimed to take his eyes away from the lure of the world and return him to his first love. It can be in form of an illness, a rejection, a dream unfulfilled, an unproductive job, death of someone special, a hardheaded child, or stress from the day to day activities. It can also be in the form of persecution or even the dryness of one’s spiritual life. King David, for instance, after his sin with Bathsheba, realized that one major consequence of his disobedience was a dryness of spirit. Thus, he cried out,

“Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me” (Ps. 51:11, NASB).

This is not to say that salvation can be lost. No, the Holy Spirit will never abandon His child. However, when we become too busy with the world and with sin, we can grieve Him and therefore experience an episode of silence from our Lord. Like sheep, we all have this tendency to stray away from safe and green pastures into dangerous grounds. Yet, in God’s grace, His discipline will always bring us back to His fold. Indeed, there is no greater suffering than to feel the loss of God’s favor, blessing and manifest presence. Nevertheless, those who had been through God’s discipline can attest that upon restoration he or she gained a deeper understanding of who God is.

FAITH AND OBEDIENCE

Through this sanctification process, the believer also grows in faith and obedience. Yes, there are trials that are not necessarily caused by our deliberate sins. The patriarch Job, for one, was righteous and blameless before God. Still, in the Lord’s sovereign plan, he had to undergo a period of suffering. The blessing in all of his suffering, though, is that Job grew in faith in his Maker:

“Even after my skin is destroyed but from my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:26).

Similarly, the apostle Paul experienced tough opposition from enemies of the gospel, as well as natural hazards in the seas and new territories, even when he was clearly doing God’s work (2 Cor. 11:24-28). In those situations, however, the apostle’s comfort was to trust in God’s promise:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9a).

Hence, with the eyes of faith enlightened and empowered, the believer rises above the tides of affliction and responds with obedience. As the chorus of this well-loved hymn goes:

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

EYES ON THE LORD’S COMING

…and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not   forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near (Heb. 10:24-25). 

Brethren, that day is closer now than it is at the time of the first-century church. Therefore, when trials and sufferings are bogging us down, let us be encouraged by the Lord’s words:

“Yes, I am coming quickly” (Rev. 22:20).

Maranatha. Come Lord Jesus.

Works Cited
Pink, Arthur W. Studies in the Scriptures. Volume 9 of 17 (TN: Sovereign Grace Publications, 2005)

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