There's a tremendous philosophical question that you have to face when you're going through suffering: "If God is a good God, why does He allow me to go through trials?" Job faced this question when he lost everything he had. He even wondered for a moment if God had become his enemy.
If you're really going through a difficult hour, please consider why suffering makes sense. I want to share with you why suffering is a part of God's program and what the purpose of it is.
Some people today have gone so far as to say, "If you're really a saint, you won't suffer." This is not true. As you study the scriptures, you will see Jesus himself suffered. The Bible says in Hebrews 5:7-8, "During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, He learned obedience from what he suffered, and once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him" (NIV).
The Bible says Jesus Christ was made perfect through the things He suffered.
Do You Want to Be Like Jesus?
If I ask you the question, "Do you want to be like Jesus Christ?" I'm sure you'd say, "Yes." But if I ask you: "Do you want to suffer?" you'd probably reply, "No, I don't want to suffer." But this is a contradiction. To be like Christ, you must understand that God's process in making you like Christ involves suffering. If Jesus Himself had to suffer, you and I are going to have to suffer also. The Bible says in Hebrews 2 beginning with verse 9, "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering" (NIV).
Jesus Christ was born perfect, but God the Father developed His character through His suffering. I cannot tell what you're going through, because only you can understand the agony of it all. But I will say God can create within you the character of Jesus Christ through the process of suffering.
The Bible tells us how to look at our trials: "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed" (1 Peter 1:6-7, NIV).
So the Bible says that the trial of our faith is even more precious than gold. God is wanting to create gold out of your soul. You are God's "soul gold" right here on earth.
You Are God's "Soul Gold."
If you visit the Homestake Mining Company in Lead, South Dakota, you would see a tremendous machine that crushes rocks. It sends out a deafening noise and dust flies everywhere. If you saw it, you'd feel like asking, "What does all of this commotion mean?" But you'd never know what all of the noise, the commotion and all of the dust means until you see the little gold ingots. Then you'd understand that the Homestake Mining Company is mining gold.
One time I called an official at the Homestake Mining Company and asked him, "How many tons of ore do you have to process to get one ounce of gold? If my memory serves me correctly, he said they have to mine five tons of ore to get one ounce of gold.
Many people look at history and wonder about the wars, trials, deaths and suffering. A lot of cynics conclude that if God made the world, He sure made a terrible mess out of it. But we must understand what God is doing. He is allowing all of these events to create "soul gold" within our lives.
What is the Purpose of History?
So what is the purpose of history? What is the meaning of all of these events, confusing and hurtful as they might be? The whole meaning of history is that God is allowing this tremendous machine of what looks like confusion and destruction to create saints! This is the purpose of God's entire historical plan.
So partner, if you're in the trial machine, getting crunched this way and pushed that way…being ground to bits emotionally or physically, if you feel like you're in the fire…the fire is trying you so that you can come forth as refined gold. You are God's great treasure here on earth. He is perfecting you!
There is a purpose. Suffering makes sense. It helps you conform to the image of Jesus Christ. In Romans 8 there is a great scripture. It tells about how you and I can look at life and face trials. Paul the Apostle said in verse 18, "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." Paul is saying our struggles are insignificant compared to what God has in mind for us.
Paul then says in verse 28, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestinated to be conformed to the likeness of his Son" (NIV).
God Allows Every Event to Conform Us to Christ's Image
The Bible says every event God allows to work in our lives is actually for the purpose of conforming us to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. This is tremendous! No matter how difficult things are, you have to believe this.
I received a most unusual letter recently from an inmate in prison. Here's what he said: "I ran into no complications in life until 1975, although the problem had been smoldering within me for years, and I knew it well." Now, this man had a problem and he could feel it smoldering within him. The question now is, "How will God allow events to transpire to reveal what has been hidden within this man? He writes: "In 1975 I started to mess around with cocaine and heroine. This was all that was needed to release my sexual aberration, and like a dam bursting open, when the authorities finally caught up with me on January 18, 1976, I had committed 17 rapes and armed robberies. I just didn't care about anything or anyone during the year of 1975. Now I must pay the price of 25 to 55 years in prison."
Can you imagine what someone would think looking at these events--17 rapes and armed robberies? And here's a man thrown into prison for 25 to 55 years. What good is all of this disaster, suffering, confusion and injustice? What good is being done by it? The man continues: "Lowell, in spite of all this, I have moved forward. I have faced my problem and accepted what I can't change. Some time ago, I completely turned my life over to Jesus. What His will is remains His secret, but whatever it is, I accept it with love."
What an unusual letter. God allowed this man to exert his will to do what was not God's will so that this man might be able to face the monster that was within him. I understand a lot of great injustices were done against those whom he robbed and raped, but nevertheless, God can work in those lives too. For only God can work in all situations. God can turn around all things for good. He can even make evil work for good if your heart is right. So, if you're suffering, if you're going through a difficult time, I want you to understand that God is at work. He is working to conform you to the image of Jesus Christ.
Sometimes everything looks like a horrible mess and we can't see the possibility of any good arising from it. My wife, Connie, had an illustration of this just the other day. One of our friends sent her a piece of embroidery, and as she opened it up and looked at it, the back side was a mass of confusion--threads all tangled up and messy, but then she turned it over and there was a beautiful flower. She's been treasuring this and carrying it in her Bible to remind her to always try to see our own lives through heaven's eyes.