When suffering comes, we want answers. We live in a world that is marred by sin, so difficulties, hurts, and disappointments are bound to cross our path. Nevertheless, as you seek the Lord to understand why He allowed the suffering to occur, you can also use questions to see how God can redeem these situations and bring benefit to your life through these trying experiences.
Scripture teaches us that “we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Searching for God’s answers and learning to view “bad things” as avenues to “good things” are attitudes and perspectives that God wants His children to develop as they mature spiritually.
As you seek to discern how to find meaning, strength, and growth when trials come, these seven basic questions can be a helpful tool for you. By asking questions and seeking wisdom and guidance from God, you can discover purpose as you recognize the transforming work of Christ, even in the midst of suffering.
1. How can this situation help me understand more about Christ?
Jesus suffered more than we can ever imagine. He was falsely accused, ridiculed, betrayed, beaten, and abandoned. He suffered one of the most humiliating and excruciating deaths practiced in His day. Isaiah’s prophecy that the Messiah would be “despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3) was fulfilled in every way.
Do you think Jesus was ever tempted to be bitter toward those who caused His suffering? We know that the Bible teaches that He was “in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). “Without sin” is key and the difference between man’s natural, sinful responses of hate, bitterness, and retaliation and Jesus Christ’s responses of trust, forgiveness, and perfect obedience to His Father’s will.
How, then, can we face our trials without sinning? The next verse in that Scripture passage gives us the answer: “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Again, we must turn to the Lord in prayer and receive His grace!
Jesus showed us the correct way to respond to suffering. On the cross, Jesus exhibited trust and humble submission to His Father’s will. In your hard circumstance, unexpected tragedy, or heartbreaking disappointment, you can learn to respond as Jesus did—He knew God the Father had a perfect will that culminated in blessing. The Apostle Paul counted it one of his highest callings to know Christ and His righteousness, and he recognized that any suffering he would endure would bring him closer to that goal (see Philippians 3:8–11).
As you study God’s Word, notice Christ’s responses whenever He suffered. As God guides you by His Holy Spirit, follow Christ’s example in each situation you encounter. Through your suffering, you can grow in a greater understanding of and more intimate relationship with your Savior.
2. How can God use this situation to produce humility in me?
Suffering often has a way of bringing us to the end of ourselves. We are humbled when we feel helpless and hopeless as we face seemingly insurmountable difficulty. When we exhaust our own resources or strength, we tend to better sense our need for help. Trials can soften us or slow us down so that our ears and hearts become open to hear what God wants us to learn. God tells us in His Word that “he [hath] respect unto the lowly: but the proud he knoweth afar off” (Psalm 138:6).
When you suffer, look for ways to learn humility. “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8). Do you know why God let the children of Israel wander in the wilderness for forty years? In the Bible, God tells us some of the reasons: “And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no” (Deuteronomy 8:2). What situations in your life is God using to produce humility in you?
Humility is also another attribute of Christ. He says to the downtrodden, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:28–29). We can learn humility from Jesus Christ.
We also know that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (see James 4:6 and I Peter 5:5), and we desperately need His grace, especially during times of difficulty and suffering! If humility is the path to God’s grace, we should do all we can to humble ourselves before Him.
3. What character qualities might God develop in me through this situation?
Your Heavenly Father wants you “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). As the Lord gives you grace to respond to each circumstance as Jesus would, you will develop Godly character. According to the Bible, even the Son of God learned obedience through what He suffered (see Hebrews 5:8).
Carefully review a list of Godly character qualities as you ask yourself: Which ones might be developed in my life as I respond to this circumstance?
- Could I learn patience as a result of this circumstance?
- What can this situation teach me about the need for alertness?
- How can I learn obedience as a result of this situation?
- Could this suffering motivate me to express gratefulness for things I’ve previously taken for granted?
- Might I develop more compassion for others because of this experience?
4. Is this situation God’s loving discipline to correct me?
Because God loves you, He will chasten you as a father chastens a son (see Hebrews 12:5–11). Could your suffering possibly be due to, at least in part, your having disobeyed your Heavenly Father? It is important to remember that “no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness . . .” (verse 11). There is a loving purpose in the Lord’s discipline of His children. David wrote in Psalm 119: “Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word” (verse 67), and “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes” (verse 71). He also acknowledged that God “in faithfulness has afflicted me” (verse 75).
When the Holy Spirit convicts you of sin, this is another opportunity for you to learn humility and repent. “If we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). Repentance is the only pathway back to a restored relationship with your loving Heavenly Father. Jesus urged the lukewarm church at Laodicea: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent” (Revelation 3:19).
5. Is this suffering preparation for me for future leadership?
The life of Joseph in the Old Testament provides an excellent example of suffering that thoroughly prepared a man to fulfill his destiny to be a great leader. After being sold into slavery by his brothers, Joseph became a servant of the Egyptian commander Potiphar. In this position, Joseph learned to manage projects, property, and people.
Later, when falsely accused and imprisoned, he learned humility. Despite his brothers’ abuse when he was young, over the years Joseph learned the value of mercy and the sovereignty of God. Joseph would later lovingly share with his brothers this profound statement: “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Genesis 50:20).
Joseph’s life was kept secure in the Lord’s hands. These hardships and more were ultimately part of God’s redemptive plan to prepare Joseph for leadership. Through his position as second in command to Pharaoh, Joseph was able to save his family, and ultimately the nation of Israel, from certain death. And, of course, we know that without Israel, we would not have our Savior Jesus Christ. How might God be allowing your suffering to prepare you for leadership?
6. How does God want to bless others through me?
Jesus commanded us to love one another (see John 15:12, 17). God doesn’t merely want to bring you good from your suffering; He also wants to benefit others through the hardships you encounter. As God shapes your character, strengthens your faith, and teaches you more about Christ through your trials, He will then be able to better use you as His instrument to impact and encourage others.
One of the best “cures” for suffering is that of turning your eyes from your own thoughts and emotions and looking around to notice and respond to the needs of others. If you turn inward and become depressed or confused, then God cannot love others through you. If we have allowed God to comfort us during our trials, then we are able to comfort those who are experiencing similar difficulties (see II Corinthians 1:3–4). What a blessing that we can learn and grow and then share with others, so that they do not have to endure their suffering alone!
When God allowed Joseph to suffer, He didn’t merely bless Joseph. God also blessed Joseph’s family, and He bestowed blessings upon the nations! “And God sent me [Joseph] before you [Joseph’s family] to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God . . . God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people [the entire nations of Egypt and Israel] alive” (Genesis 45:7–8, 50:20).
God’s perspective encompasses the world: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Through your suffering, He wants to broaden your perspective to see the world as He does.
7. What are possible benefits of my suffering?
To help avoid the trap of bitterness, consider compiling a list of potential benefits that God may bring about through your suffering. Using the earlier questions and the list of character qualities as tools, ask God to show you ways that He wants to redeem your suffering.
Often the benefits you discern will motivate you to respond to your suffering with joy and peace as you trust God to fulfill His purpose for your pain. Jesus Christ Himself endured the suffering of the cross for the joy of the rewards that were to come through His obedience and sacrifice (see Hebrews 12:2).
As you choose to trust God to accomplish His purposes through your suffering, you can grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord (see II Corinthians 5:7 and II Peter 3:18). You can be confident that God will not allow anything to happen to you without His permission. He will not let any “bad thing” happen that will not ultimately bring more good than destruction (see I Peter 4:12–13, Isaiah 55:8–9, Job 1:6–12, and Psalm 121:1–8).
Keep Your Eyes on Jesus
Look “unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). You too can respond to suffering with joy and peace as you trust God to fulfill His purpose for your pain. God is able to bring good out of evil, if we will submit to Him and give Him the authority in our lives to redeem it for His higher purposes. By His Spirit, God can give you life and peace—in every situation—as you look to Him for the answers.
Read more on why God lets bad things happen.