Covenantal Nature of Trouble and Suffering

Smiling group of student at the parkIn tears, the mother said to me, “I’ve been praying for my daughter for a long time, asking God to change her heart. Why hasn’t God done something?” Immediately, I started thinking about several other families who were asking the same question.

Haven’t we all asked this question? There are more than likely several distinct answers. We know that God is sovereign. His ways are higher than our ways (Isa. 55:8-9). “Shall the thing created ask, ‘why have you made me thus?’ (Rom. 9:20)” Our job as created, dependent beings is to rest in God and to wait expectantly for Him to work. This we know although we don’t like it very much.

There is, however, another answer that struck me with new profundity and provided a sense of comfort. It is simply this: God often uses our own individual sufferings to also work in the lives of others. We tend to forget this.

Redemption is on one hand a very individual experience. We are justified as individuals and brought into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. But we are saved into a spiritual family where our relationships are vital to our growth in that relationship.

The good and bad of our lives form threads that God weaves in and around others. Indeed, it is the interwoven nature of our experiences that creates the strength to endure on the one hand, but also the beauty of victory on the other. What seems like only one person’s struggle, is actually a struggle that God is using in the lives of others either to help them deal with sin, mature, or prepare for greater service.

If I come home from work in a bad mood, it usually ends up eventually affecting everyone in my house. Dealing with my bad mood is a covenantal experience. My bad mood is sin and I must confess that to God and others who I sin against because of it. But it is the role of others, my wife and my children to speak the truth in love to me (Eph. 4:16) to help correct it so that I am restored to God and my family. But in that process, they may need to deal with their own hearts so they can help me deal with my own.

My daughters’ struggle with seizures is a physical as well as spiritual struggle for her. But it is just as much of a struggle for my wife and our 17 year old daughter who both battle anxiety about when and where she has seizures. It affects me because I need to provide support to my wife and my two daughters. It affects our church body because there are many who pray regularly for her medications to work and for her ultimate healing. But none of these individual’s involvement is isolated from their own hearts. We all have to wrestle with our own hearts as we help each other through suffering which places my daughter’s personal struggle right in the crosshairs of each our own sanctification. God wastes nothing.

So, when it comes to answering “Why God?” it may very well be that God is also using that person’s struggle to work in at least one other person’s life.

Ok. So God probably has this bigger purpose in view. So what? First, it gives purpose. “Why?” is a question of purpose. When suffering lingers, wanting to know why naturally takes on greater importance. God is sovereign. Every situation is prescribed by Him for his redemptive purposes not just in our own lives but in the lives of others. This sense of purpose although perhaps not fully understood, enables us to persevere and to keep seeking God through it.

Second, it gives us hope. Because God has a purpose: our conformity to the image of his Son, we also have hope that God will bring it to completion (Phil. 1:6).

Third, it should motivate us to ask God to show us how he might want to use another person’s suffering…to work in us!

Forth, if we find that God is working in us through those sufferings, it is a great blessing to tell the person who is suffering how their trial is helping you. It bolsters their sense of purpose, their faith and thus their endurance.

One day my daughter told me that she would rather have seizures and the close relationship she has with the Lord than to not have the seizures but not walk as closely to Christ. This testimony has strengthened my own faith in my own trials. But I’ve also shared this testimony with others who I’ve come across. I usually tell her when I have these conversations. And when I have told her, her face lights up like a Christmas tree and I see a clear sense of relief and encouragement in her that is deeply heartening.

This doesn’t provide a perfect answer as to why God is allowing suffering to continue in a particular situation. But Lord willing, it does provide a broader picture of what He might be up to that gives us hope.

One day we will all know why we’ve gone through seasons of suffering. I believe we will all be amazed at how extensively God has orchestrated suffering to accomplish his redeeming work in us and to the lives of others.