There are times when we go through deserts of life – the times when we feel that we have been cast adrift with no divine wind in our sails. There are other times when we suffer acute pain: mental, physical, or emotional anguish of a particular kind or from a particular source. Both of these periods in our lives are suffering, and I firmly believe there is a purpose to suffering.
There is meaning in suffering, but that is not what I am concerned with in this post. The meaning of suffering is more metaphysical, which in many cases, and for most people, is not the type of thing you have the mental energy to do while enduring suffering. Purpose speaks to a practical reason or explanation of why this, why now. Recognizing a purpose to your suffering can get you through each day, and then in looking back on a period of suffering you may find the meaning.
We endure suffering in this life to bring us closer to God. Pain curbs the dangers of pride. Feeling alone and powerless turns us back to the Powerful One who said He would not leave us. Pain and suffering remind us that we are not at home in this world. They make us focus on the promise of a life free from the ordeals we experience here and now. Suffering should bring us to hope.
We are not always hopeful when we are called to endure. Long periods of crisis, or painful chronic disorders can bring us to despair and envy instead of leading us away from pride. This happens especially when we thing that someone or something has the answer to “solve” our problem. Worst of all, we might think that there is something we can do to fix our situation, our aliment, our pain. What vice is it that makes us think we can solve our own problems? Pride. The very thing that suffering can help us conquer can be used by the enemy to make our spiritual condition worse.
Pain and suffering are weapons, but they are not just weapons of the enemy. They can be used against us, crushing us into despair, or they can be powerful weapons in our hands, guided by God, to shape us into better practitioners of His will, not ours.
The purpose of suffering is to test and to purify us. It is not a punishment, though it can be a correction. We all suffer, each to a degree that God knows we can endure if we rely on Him. Certainly, some suffer so that they might be miraculously healed for His glory and as a witness of His power. But the majority, most of us, are being called to endure the trials and hurt so that we might be refined, formed, and directed to give glory to God.
Will you be beaten by the hardships in your life, or will you, with the strength of God, wield them as one of the most powerful weapons in your arsenal of faith?
Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 7, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.