The God Who Uses Suffering
The narrative of the world states that we should live purely to find happiness. This narrative leaves no room for suffering to fulfill its purpose in our lives. Suffering, at its best, is to be tolerated—and at its worst, to be avoided at all costs (even at the cost of one’s own life). You see, when happiness becomes our be-all and end-all, it’s incredibly difficult to conjure up the will to live when all of our happiness is replaced by suffering. In this article, I will introduce you to a more excellent and hopeful truth than what popular culture would lead you to believe.
I find that the secular logic tries to reason with the theological, claiming that all suffering is pointless because an all-good (omnibenevolent) and all-powerful (omnipotent) God cannot possibly allow suffering to exist if He is real. Their general conclusion is that He must be manmade, which makes all suffering completely random and purposeless.
But such a shortsighted narrative provides the individual with little to no consolation in the midst of his or her seemingly meaningless suffering. If the whole point of living is to be happy, then what place does suffering have in the framework of our journey to happiness? According to this logic, suffering is absolutely meaningless. God simply allows it to happen because He either can’t stop it, don’t care enough to stop it, or that He doesn’t exist. Even the more seasoned Christians fall into this way of thinking, precisely because it is so alluring. Who wouldn’t want to be happy, after all?
Unfortunately, if you keep gritting your teeth, demanding that God’s sole purpose must be to make your life as pleasurable as possible, then the God you serve is a genie—not the all-loving and all-knowing God of the Bible. To truly trust God is to trust that He is in full control of your terrible situation, and yet He is not obligated to meet your expectations. If He grants your wishes and meets your expectations every time, He wouldn’t be able to exceed them.
In 2015, I experienced the worst anxiety attacks I’ve ever had because of relational and situational stressors. During an anxiety attack on the freeway, both my hands and the back of my head went completely numb, crippling my ability to drive. I managed to pull over, gathered myself together, and drove straight to the hospital using only my palms because my fingers were still immobile. The hospital transferred me to the psychiatric ward to be detained for 72 hours on suicide watch, although my experience in the ward was even more traumatizing than the event that triggered my anxiety attacks. The first person who greeted me while I was still strapped to the stretcher in the middle of a flickering hallway was a middle-aged, schizophrenic woman who thought I was there to question her faith. It was a terrifying experience, to say the least. I shared a room with two other women, one of whom was incredibly violent at night. There weren’t any doors to the restroom; only curtains. I heard so many curse words in the restroom and smelled foul smells each night. I left that ward more anxious and afraid than I was when I first came in. Little did I know, God had already prepared for me two of the most restorative and profound friendships I never could have fathomed.
Because of my suffering, I was able to confide in two girls, Karen and Pisacha, who both became instrumental to my spiritual and emotional healing. I had wounds way before the anxiety attacks crept in, but God exposed my wounds for the sake of bringing me deeper into my relationships with my sisters and with Him. I replayed my traumatic situations countless times over in my head, and each replay led me to the same conclusion: I can honestly say that I would not take away my traumatic experiences, even if I were offered the choice, because the relationships I formed during those gut-wrenching times made the suffering worthwhile. If I hadn’t gone through what I’d gone through, Karen and Pisacha would still remain mere acquaintances. I wouldn’t have known the extent of their character and compassion. I wouldn’t have shared so many tears, revelations, and deep prayers with them. The suffering was worthwhile because I became closer to them than anyone could get to another human being.
Now, if I would be willing to go through the extreme trauma just to be closer to my sisters, how much more should I be willing to go through suffering to be closer to my God? That’s the point that many of us constantly miss. When disaster strikes, we become so focused on the problem itself that we forget about the relationship that can be forged with God through the suffering. We keep refusing to acknowledge the truth that suffering can lead to hope, repentance, and a deeper understanding of Him.
Christians who buy into the world’s narrative on suffering will have a heart-wrenchingly difficult time reconciling what they think they know about God’s character with what’s happening to them. Having experienced this torment myself, I can attest that it is better to not believe at all than to believe in a secularized God, who exists only to serve us and to do our bidding.
If you’ve fallen into this anguish, let me remind you once again of the truth that the world so often rejects: The all-good and all-knowing God has always used suffering to fulfill His great purposes. In the Bible, every instance of suffering has been used by God to fulfill a certain purpose. Even the story of Job, the most melancholic story of suffering, served a greater purpose. From his undeserved sufferings, Job gained deeper knowledge of God’s power and love like never before. Job learned that the all-good and all-loving God would allow His children to suffer to give them a greater glimpse of Himself.
Yes, it is true that some sufferings seem senseless. When we observe children sleeping among flies in Aleppo or frantic parents trying to revive their precious, starving babies in East Africa, it is incredibly hard to see how any good can possibly come out of such tragedies. These extreme stories are oftentimes used to support the “If God is all-good, why would He let this happen?” argument. But this argument ignores the other essential part of God’s character: His omniscience. People assume that just because they cannot perceive any possible greater purpose for the suffering, God can’t possibly have any great reasons for it, either. Such remarks are masked by genuine anger and confusion, but are actually rooted in natural human arrogance.
Let’s make one thing clear: God doesn’t take pleasure in our suffering. He loathes it. But, as a perfect parent, He allows it to happen for our own good. Sometimes, we can’t perceive His reasons in the moment; He only reveals it to us in retrospect. Other times, we might not know the reasons even until our deaths. Remember how God allowed the great John the Baptist to be beheaded without knowing whether or not he truly fulfilled his purpose? God did not live up to John’s expectations because He wanted to exceed it. John the Baptist might have died with unanswered questions, but I imagine that he would understand it all once he met God face to face.
Likewise, we might not know all the answers, but we know the half that matters—the half that will carry us through difficult times. As Romans 8:28 proclaims, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” All we need to know is that God loves us and He will make everything work out for our own good—even if times are looking hopeless. Only through suffering will we learn to fix our eyes on Jesus, who will offer us everlasting peace that transcends all understanding.