Have you ever wondered, Why does God let bad things happen? Maybe He allowed you to suffer an injury, lose your job, or have a car accident. Perhaps you have had to live with a physical defect, experience the loss of a loved one, or go through the divorce of your parents? You thought, How can a God Who loves me allow me to experience pain and suffering?
When bad things happen, we want answers. The truth is, you can’t know all the reasons why God lets bad things happen. We live in a world that is marred by sin, so difficulties and disappointments are bound to cross our path. Nevertheless, if you ask God for discernment, you can begin to understand why He might have allowed the painful experience to occur. You can also begin to see how God can redeem the situation and bring benefits to your life as a result of the suffering.
Scripture teaches us that “we know 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 disciplines that God wants His children to develop as they mature spiritually. (See I Corinthians 2:14.)
Accept God’s Grace
If you choose to trust God to bring about His purposes through your suffering, you can avoid the trap of bitterness and 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, Genesis 50:20, and Psalm 121:1–8.)
Discern the Benefits of Your Suffering
As you seek to discern the benefits of your suffering, it is important to ask six basic questions:
1. How can this situation help me understand more about Christ?
Jesus suffered much. He was “despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). He was falsely accused, ridiculed, betrayed, beaten, humiliated, and abandoned. Do you think Jesus was ever tempted to be bitter toward those who caused His suffering? Of course, He was! In fact, the Bible says He was “in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
“Without sin”—here is the difference between man’s “natural” responses of anger and bitterness (sin), and Jesus Christ’s responses of trust and perfect obedience to His Father’s will. How, then, can we face temptation 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 receive God’s grace!
Jesus showed us the right way to respond to suffering. In your hard circumstance, unexpected tragedy, or heartbreaking disappointment, you can learn to respond as Jesus did. As you study God’s Word, be alert to Christ’s responses when He suffered. As God guides you by His Holy Spirit, follow Christ’s example in each situation you encounter. Through your suffering, you can understand more about your Savior.
2. How can God use this situation to produce humility in me?
God hates pride. (See Proverbs 6:16–17.) On the other hand, “by humility and the fear of the LORD are riches, and honor, and life” (Proverbs 22:4). (See also Proverbs 18:12). Therefore, when you suffer, look for ways to learn humility. “He hath showed 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? The Bible 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, emphasis added). What situations in your life is God using to produce humility in you?
3. What character qualities can 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 respond, you will develop Godly character. The Bible tells us that 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 could be developed in my life as I respond correctly 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?
- Can I develop more compassion for others because of this experience?
4. Is this situation God’s loving discipline to correct me?
Have you disobeyed your Heavenly Father? Because God loves you, He will chasten you as a Father chastens a son. (See Hebrews 12:5–11.) 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).
If the Holy Spirit convicts you of sin, 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 future leadership?
The life of Joseph, narrated in the Old Testament, provides an excellent example of suffering that thoroughly prepared a man to fulfill his destiny to be a great leader.
For example, after being sold into slavery by his brothers, Joseph became Potiphar’s servant and 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. These hardships and more, were ultimately part of God’s plan to prepare Joseph for leadership. How might God be allowing your suffering to prepare you for leadership?
When suffering comes because of the iniquities of others
God hates sin and does not cause others to sin. (See James 1:13–14.) Yet, another source of suffering may be due to others’ iniquities. However, remember that sinful actions are the result of man’s rejection of God’s ways. Be careful to not blame God for others’ sinful actions. For example, children frequently must deal with the consequences of their parents’ sinful choices. If your employer makes foolish decisions, you will probably suffer too. If your spouse is ignorant of or rejects God’s design for marriage, both of you, as well as your children, will suffer.
Scripture gives us many examples of suffering that came as a result of others’ wickedness. For example, at one point in time, Israel experienced severe famine for three years. When King David finally asked God why He had let the famine occur, God explained that the famine was the consequence of decisions made by David’s predecessor, Saul. When King David brought restitution to those who had suffered injustice at the hand of King Saul, God ended the famine. (See II Samuel 21:1–14.)
Although you cannot completely avoid suffering that comes as a consequence of others’ sin, you can choose to give your pain to the Lord, forgive the one who hurt you, and conquer the temptation to become bitter. Bitterness, hate, unforgiveness, and resentment will only bring you more suffering. These destructive qualities will also defile others in your life (see Hebrews 12:14–15). However, when you see the benefits that may come as a result of your suffering—even due to another’s sin—you can more easily forgive those who hurt you and put your trust and hope in the Lord to bring comfort and healing. 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.
List of Possible Benefits of Your Suffering
To help avoid the trap of bitterness, compile a list of potential benefits that God wants to bring about through your suffering. Using the questions above 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.)
Discover How God Wants to Bless Others Through You
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 enriches 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 other people.
One of God’s goals in allowing suffering is to help you take your focus off of yourself and encourage you to see and respond to the needs of others. 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!
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.
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).
Embrace Suffering as a Path to Spiritual Maturity
Learn to 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). Follow Christ’s example of focusing on future rewards as a motivation to endure present hardship. Recognize the benefits that can come from your suffering. As you do so, you can avoid the defilement of bitterness (see Hebrews 12:12–15) and become better equipped to “serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Hebrews 12:28).
“They that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Romans 8:5–6). By His Spirit, God can give you life and peace—in every situation—as you look to Him for the answers.