How Long Will God Allow Me to Suffer?
It would be so nice to have an end date, wouldn’t it? Some sort of scriptural template to understand God’s
specific plan in our suffering. The Israelites waited over 400 years for deliverance. Elijah pined for a new place for an undisclosed time. The exiles sat in Babylon seventy years. What is God’s timeline and how is it determined? How long will God allow me to suffer? God does not give us a set time because suffering is never about time.
The purpose of suffering is never about a length of time, it is about the depth of power and the height of transformation God accomplishes in us through it.
God’s Purpose in Suffering
Suffering remains part of our human condition. Accordingly, no man is exempt from its touch. We only hold sway in our response to it. TA McMahon said, “For the believer in Jesus, every trial of suffering is an opportunity to grow in the faith, to grow in our relationship with the Lord, and to see Him work in our lives in a uniquely personal way that demonstrates His compassion, His comfort, His tender mercies, His loving kindnesses, His grace, and His endless love. Only God knows what each of us needs to experience and learn in order to be ‘conformed to the image of his Son’”. In other words, God accomplishes a spiritual reality within us during difficult circumstances that cannot be achieved any other way.
God’s purpose in our suffering can be broken down into three categories: preparation, consecration, and transformation. While we may not ever know the timeline of our current suffering, we can tenaciously assert God’s purposes in allowing it. He is preparing us for what lies ahead. Additionally, He has chosen and consecrated us for a work in which we must be broken down and rebuilt in His strength. And through it all He transforms us to become more like Christ that we might share in His glory. How long must the suffering last? He alone knows.
Does God Want Us to Suffer?
This is such a great question. If we did not suffer, would we miss the opportunity to become like Christ? It seems that the story of the people of Israel tells of their incessant suffering. Could God not prevent the suffering of His saints by His Sovereign hand? If the answer is “Yes,” then why doesn’t He?
Interestingly, we see the early believers respond to suffering in a strange way to our modern ears. “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name,” (Acts 5:41). This refers to a specific type of suffering, namely for being identified as a Christ follower. The world is full of lots of varying suffering: death, hunger, hurt and heartache. Ought we to rejoice in these types as well?
A story attributed to Sadhu Singh offers an explanation to this question:
One day after a long journey, I rested in front of a house. Suddenly a sparrow came towards me blown helplessly by a strong wind. From another direction, an eagle dived to catch the panicky sparrow. Threatened from different directions, the sparrow flew into my lap. By choice, it would not normally do that. However, the little bird was seeking for a refuge from a great danger. Likewise, the violent winds of suffering and trouble blow us into the Lord’s protective hands.
When We Suffer From Doubt and Disappointment
Suffering draws us to God and dissuades us from seeking safety and satisfaction in a world that cannot ever deliver. Consequently, we rest in the protection of God. God soothes us with His sufficiency. He shelters us in His peace. We realize that an ease in suffering comes not from a lack of pain but from an abundance of God’s presence. God prophesied to His people through Ezekiel warning them of immense suffering that awaited their nation. Over fifty times He emphasized, “Then you will know that I am the LORD.” He used His superlative Name, “Yahweh” meaning the God who creates and enters relationship. The word for “know” is “yada” implying a deep level of intimacy. Something beyond head knowledge, but an experiential relationship.
God emphasized fifty times that every disappointment throughout their captivity, the destruction of their homeland, the proliferation of evil, the delay in their return, all amount of suffering they would experience would provide a pathway toward intimacy with God. It would open the door for them to fully experience God’s inexhaustible care and immeasurable provision for His people. Imagine the ability to perceive God’s presence in our lives with such clarity. Not in having our own way but in yielding to His.
Suffering became a byproduct of free will. We choose Our Deliverer or we choose destruction and devastation. Our own Savior suffered as He strode this fractured earth, we ought not wonder why we must do the same while we wait for Him to bring about its wholeness and redemption.
Examples of Suffering in the Bible
GK Chesterton said, “Jesus promised the disciples three things – that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy and in constant trouble”. He clearly kept these promises for at the end of Peter’s life in his letter, he mentioned suffering nineteen times. In one letter. Yet Peter remained fearless and full of joy. Peter wrote this letter from Rome. At the time, Nero had recently become emperor and he relentlessly persecuted Christians, lighting them on fire as torches and throwing them into arenas for lions to mangle. Suffering the likes of which most of us have never seen. These examples of suffering are some of the most atrocious in Christian history, but the Bible is full of examples of suffering.
In fact, we would be hard pressed to find any saint of God set apart for kingdom work who did not first endure a season of suffering. Abraham suffered from infertility. Jacob suffered from isolation and estrangement. Joseph suffered from rejection, slander, and imprisonment. Moses suffered from failure and abandonment. The prophets suffered persecution. Should we weave one common thread throughout Scripture we could write upon it: God’s faithfulness throughout our suffering.
Peter concluded his letter with this comforting promise: And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. (1 Peter 5:10.) Suffering not only strengthens us, it expands our vision. Henry Beecher quotes, “Tears are often the telescope by which men see far into heaven”. Somehow our suffering enables us to see beyond the temporal; spiritual realities crystallized only through tumbled teardrops on our cheeks.
The Greatest Example of Suffering
Our greatest example of suffering includes Christ Himself. Martin Luther quipped, “Should we expect a bed of roses when our Savior endured a crown of thorns?”. Jesus suffered rejection, ridicule, hunger, thirst, abandonment, isolation, humiliation, torture, temptation and the horror of the crucifixion. He saw into the heart of every man and read their every cursed thought. He showed compassion despite their hypocrisy and extended love to those hiddenly selfish and vile. His benevolence knew no bounds. He willingly left glory and clothed Himself in flesh to become Grace, removing from us the grit and filth of sin. None can fathom the suffering He endured on our behalf. What we suffer here He feels. What He is working in its midst, He knows. He will not waste it. As Brother Lawrence reminds us, “You need not cry very loud, He is nearer than you think.”
Holding Onto Hope in Suffering
For the Christian, the greatest hope in suffering is that while God does not desire us to suffer, He will always accomplish something through it. He does not allow it randomly nor without effect in our lives. Christians in Rome suffered most greatly during the birth of the early church and Paul also wrote to them. Look at this promise: Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:34) These Roman Christians asked Paul the age-old question. How long will God allow us to suffer? While Paul could not propose a timeline, he emphatically promised a purpose. He goes on to explain: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us”. (Romans 8:18) Suffering remains part of our human experience now until the end of the ages. But the glory that awaits us bids beauty beyond the darkest disappointment and pain.
Tim Keller asserts, “While other worldviews lead us to sit in the midst of life’s joys, foreseeing the coming sorrows, Christianity empowers its people to sit in the midst of this world’s sorrows, tasting the coming joy”.
Our King is coming and with Him He brings fullness of joy and end to our suffering. Hold onto this hope!
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