Illness can be a frightening and isolating experience with uncertainties and losses. Sometimes illness can push us to the point of spiritual and emotional distress. It can also be a time of spiritual growth. As Christians, we acknowledge God is good, all-powerful and all- loving. If this is the case, why does God permit the pain and suffering we see around us? Surely a good God would not allow the kind of suffering we see in our world, would He? In reality, a good God values character over comfort. Human comforts are temporary, but character transcends time. Character is often best developed as a result of our temporary pain and suffering.
“Human comforts are temporary, but character transcends time.”
It is important to remember that even Jesus was allowed to suffer, “to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known…according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:10-11). God had an eternal purpose in allowing His own Son to suffer. Paul taught that this purpose was that we might understand and know God’s wisdom and love through His plan to redeem us through the death of His Son. Therefore, if God has allowed even His own Son to suffer to fulfill His eternal purpose, then you must also trust that He is working out His eternal purpose in you in the midst of your suffering to redeem someone else’s life by your testimony and example.
But how can you be sure that something good will come out of your suffering? Paul taught, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Note that Paul does not say that all things that happen to us are good, but that God takes all things and works them together for good in order to fulfill His eternal purpose.
Patience, determination, the will to persevere and the ability to retain hope, all result from the trials and tribulations of life. Viktor E. Frankel in the book, “Man’s Search for Meaning” states, “If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.”1
“If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering.” – Viktor E. Frankel
Suffering tests how you will respond to God and to others. Will you blame and curse God, or will you trust Him to fulfill His plan even if you don’t understand it? God told His people: “I have refined you but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction” (Isaiah 48:10). No one enjoys the tests and the trials that suffering brings to our lives, but they surely refine our character and help us to see what is truly important in life. God tested Joseph through all the suffering he went through when he was sold by his jealous brothers into slavery. David declared that the Lord, “sent a man before them – Joseph – who was sold as a slave. They hurt his feet with fetters, he was laid in irons. Until the time that his world came to pass, the word of the Lord tested him.” (Psalms 105:17-19)
Joseph knew that God allowed all this suffering to happen because He was working out a greater plan, which ultimately would bring forth good, not only to him and his entire family, but ultimately to Egypt and the entire world. When Joseph spoke to his brothers after he had saved them from the famine, he said: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). Joseph passed his test by trusting that God loved him and was working out His eternal plan. You need to trust God’s sovereign plan, too. Remember, God does not promise that the righteous are exempt from suffering. He promises that, “The righteous will come through trouble” (Proverbs 12:13). Trust that the Lord will bring you through this testing of your faith.
In 2 Corinthians 1:3 & 4, Paul relays that God’s spirit can use those painful occasions so that we can make a positive difference for others. Our experience of pain makes it possible for us to empathize with others. Our companionship affirms the personal worth of each of us. When others see that God helped me, they are encouraged to lean on God’s strength. When we become a conduit of God’s blessings to others, then even the painful times can be claimed as a precious moment of our walk with God.
1 Viktor E. Frankl. Man’s Search for Meaning. New York, NY: Washington Square Press, 1985. P. 88.
(All Scripture References have been taken from the NIV)
About the Author
Shawn Bowers lives in St. John’s, NL with his wife Mary, and they attend Bethesda Pentecostal Church. He is very passionate about chaplaincy work. His calling and vision is found in Matthew 25: 31-46: “doing ministry unto Jesus.” His pastoral role at the hospitals brings a unique perspective to the subject of illness and suffering.