When it comes to explaining why God allows suffering, there are 2 common mistakes we can make: the first is to say too much and to claim we have knowledge that we really don’t have. God does give us some answers in the Bible as to why He allows suffering in our lives and in this world. But we certainly don’t have all the answers and we should never claim to know exactly what God’s agenda is. Remember, that’s what Job’s friends did! They were spiritually arrogant; they presumed to know why Job was suffering. And they were completely wrong. So the first mistake we can make is to say too much about God’s purpose for suffering. The other mistake we can make is to say nothing at all. The Bible isn’t silent about these issues, so we shouldn’t be silent either. If we don’t address the reasons why God allows suffering – if we don’t say what the Bible allows us to say – then it gives the impression that there is no message and no lesson to be learned. But such is not the case. God DOES have a purpose for suffering – it’s never arbitrary, it’s never meaningless.
And let’s be honest. Even if we knew all the reasons God has for our suffering, it wouldn’t lessen our pain and heartache. I spent an entire year after September 11 asking “why, why, why”… and I found that those answers are not nearly as important as finding The Answer: Peace comes by trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation. As I’ve learned firsthand: A broken heart is not healed by explanations. It’s healed by the love and the grace of God.
When adversity comes upon us, it’s our human nature to ask, “Why is this happening?” God knows we need a few answers to satisfy our curiosity. Those answers can be found in the Bible and they can be confirmed by our own personal experiences. Please note, this is not a complete list; and keep in mind that God may use these in combination with each other to accomplish His purpose.
So why does God allow suffering?
- To PURIFY US. “See, I have refined you, though not as silver. I have tested you in the furnace of affliction” (Isaiah 48:10). The same way that steel or metal or glass is strengthened (tempered) when it’s held in a fire, our trials can strengthen us. They can purge the impurities in our life. Sometimes God allows suffering in our lives because there is work to be done inside of us — to make us more like Him. That process can be painful, but the end result will be a big improvement if we allow God to do His work in our heart.
- To GLORIFY GOD. “…so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). Check out Nick Vujicic. He was born without arms and legs, but he’s a devout Christian and God gave him a powerful international ministry. Look at Joni Eareckson-Tada. She’s been a quadriplegic in a wheelchair for most of her life; but she’s a devout Christian and God gave her a powerful international ministry. Look at countless other people who face incomprehensible adversity. God uses them — and their difficult circumstances — for His glory. So that the works of God will be displayed in them. So that other people will see that there’s no way humans can do anything like that in their own power. It can only be accomplished by the power and the grace of God.
- To CORRECT US. “God disciplines us for our good that we may share in His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterward it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:10-11). Let’s face it: sometimes our trials are a result of our disobedience; there are consequences to our actions. We’ve all made unwise choices and paid the price for it. Sometimes God allows us to suffer the consequences so that we will learn from our mistakes and grow in our spiritual journey.
- To COMFORT OTHERS. “…the God of all comfort, who comforts us in our troubles, that we may comfort others in their troubles, with the same comfort we have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1: 3-4). Our trials equip us to encourage and support other people in similar situations. There may be people in your sphere of influence who are going through something that you’ve already been thru. Your painful experience has made you more useful to God than you ever were before, because God can now use you to reach out to those who are dealing with the same problem. None of us were made to stand alone; God uses us to hold each other up and to comfort each other.
- To Prove GOD’S faithfulness to US. “My grace is sufficient for you; for My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Our weaknesses keep us humble and remind us of our constant need for God’s strength. Once we recognize our own limitations, we’ll depend more on God and less on ourselves. When we turn to Him in repentance, admitting our desperate need for Him, we’ll see how entirely dependable and faithful He really is.
- To Prove OUR faithfulness to GOD. “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (Job 13:15). If God took away our heartaches and our pain every single time we asked Him to, then surely we’d only turn to Him for our own selfish desires, and for our convenience– instead of turning to Him out of sincere love and devotion, as we should. So sometimes God uses our trials to test us — to see if we’ll remain faithful to Him, even in the worst possible circumstances.
I hope this somehow encourages you in your life struggles, and especially during this COVID-19 crisis. Far be it from me to claim to know exactly why God has allowed this global pandemic — or any other struggles in your life. But I do know this: God DOES have a purpose for everything that happens — nothing is arbitrary or meaningless. At the very least, our trials can bring us closer to Him… and make us more like Him… IF we allow God to work in our hearts.