A Theology of Suffering

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I recently took much needed time for myself for a week of intensive trauma therapy. I’ll reserve this topic for another time, but while I was there, I spent time grieving losses, wounds, and putting a long list of trauma stories in the past.

No matter who you are, life is hard. And yes—God is good, no matter how hard our life has been.

As Christians, we’re called to suffer. We often fight against this idea, thinking a loving God would always want us to experience blessings and prosperity. “After all,” we ask, “how can a good God watch his children suffer?”

As parents, we would never willingly put our children through suffering, right?

Well, that’s really not true. One of our kids was born with a medical condition that required extensive testing. As much as we hated it, my husband and I had to subject our baby to torturous tests they were too tiny to comprehend. We even asked the doctors if these procedures could be processed by our child’s preverbal mind as abusive. He assured us that our baby would be okay, but I was still doubtful.

But in spite of the pain, we knew our child had to endure suffering in order for doctors to determine the appropriate medical protocol for treatment.

What was needed for our child’s long-term wellbeing surpassed the immediate discomfort of their pain.

Romans 5:3-5 states: “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

I’d prefer not to live with chronic illness and pain. Pain is discouraging, debilitating, and isolating. But I do not lose hope in suffering, knowing that God’s strength can be seen in my weakness, that I am strongest when I find my strength in Him, and that perseverance builds my faith and hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

A theology of suffering allows us to understand the reality of suffering around us within the context of a loving God.

Suffering is not evidence of absence of faith.

Suffering is not “bad” and something that should be avoided.

Suffering is not a good that should be embraced.

Suffering is a necessary aspect of spiritual growth.

God delivers us through suffering. He grows us within the context of community through suffering. He pulls us closer to Himself through suffering. God grows us spiritually through suffering, which is an insidious part of the world we live in. We gain authentic entry into the lives of others who suffer through our own experiences and knowledge of God’s unfailing mercy and grace in our time of need. Suffering is the battleground of our faith, where we face our fears, our pride, our idols, and learn to trust God for Who He Is.

Everything about this world has been broken by sin, including bodies that are born touched by the fall of humanity in the garden of Eden. As God’s children we can rejoice in suffering—not because we enjoy it, but because pain does not leave us in shame or diminish us; it draws us closer to our ever-faithful Savior and makes us more like Him.

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