What is the purpose of our suffering? This is a question that all of us will face at some point in our lives. Some people have walked through prolonged seasons of suffering and wrestled with countless questions about God’s purpose for it. While the Bible does not answer all of our questions about the purpose of suffering, it does remind us that God is at work in the midst of it to sanctify us.
As we look at 1 Peter 4:1-7 this Sunday, we will see that God uses suffering to help us sever the roots of sin in our lives. Christians are called to make a break with sin, and yet our sinful nature remains. The struggle this creates is what Paul laments in Romans 7, where he says, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” Finally, he cries out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
Thankfully, God is at work in us to deliver us from the clutches of sin over the course of our lives. And one of the instruments He uses toward this end is suffering. Trials jolt us out of complacency, expose our idols, and teach us to pray with more urgency. We may not always feel like we are growing spiritually in the midst of suffering, but we are learning dependence and humility as we call out to God in our weakness.
John Newton, the author of Amazing Grace, experienced a great deal of personal suffering in his life. But he never saw his trials as senseless, random afflictions. Rather, he understood God was using them toward his growth in grace. Newton accepted God’s absolute sovereignty over the lives of His children. No trials in the Christian life are accidental, but part of His loving purpose for us. In one of his letters he wrote:
“Though he (God) put forth his hand, and seem to threaten our dearest comforts, yet when we remember that it is his hand, when we consider that it is his design, his love, his wisdom, and his power, we cannot refuse to trust him.”
Newton wrote that we can accept afflictions as acts of God’s loving work in our lives, because Christ has taken God’s wrath. Because Christ drank the cup of God’s wrath, the cup of suffering that God’s children are called to drink is “only medicinal to promote their chief good.”
Part of that good is that we would die more and more unto sin, and live more and more unto righteousness.