A question came up at church Sunday that offers helpful distinction from the often asked, “Why does God allow evil to continue in this world?” This other question is much more specific and focuses on those who are followers of Christ. A preacher once said to a group of Christians, “You are either facing a trial in your life, just coming out of one or about to go into one.” While such a statement may be overly pessimistic, it does seem to many that following Jesus is the beginning of difficulties, not the end. So why does God allow bad things to happen to Christians?
The Bible offers several reasons why Christians must endure intense trials. Contrary to much popular preaching, the Bible never promises the Christian that faith will lead to an easier life. Instead, “All that will live Godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 3:12) Jesus told the disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation.” (John 16:33) and “If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:20) The apostle Paul told newly formed churches, “That we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22) Suffering should not surprise anyone, least of all the Christian.
The Christians suffering is never pointless. James says that the trying of your faith produces patience. (James 1:3) Romans says that tribulation produces patience. (Romans 5:3) Second Corinthians says, “For our light affliction which is but for a moment worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” (2 Corinthians 4:17) Suffering for the Christian always has a good purpose. The New Testament teaches that tribulation is permitted by God to produce Christlikeness in His children and to bring them eternal benefit.
Sometimes God brings suffering on a Christian to chasten them for sin. This chastening is Divine correction that brings punishment on His children for persistent sin. God disciplines His children in the same way loving parents discipline their children. “For who the Lord loveth, He chasteneth.” (Hebrews 12:6) God does not punish in anger. God does not punish His children because they are irritating Him. God’s brings painful correction for the good of His children. “He (chastened us) for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness. . . afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness.” (Hebrews 12:10-11) The chastening of God is painful, but it is profitable because it produces righteousness in His people.
God also allows suffering in the life of Christians to make them more fruitful. This suffering is not punishment for sin, but preparation for more fruitful service. In John 15 Jesus likens His followers to branches. The fruitless branches will be cut off and the fruitful branches will be pruned so that they will be more fruitful. The fruitful branch does not escape the cutting, but it will not be entirely cut off. Instead, in God’s grace He cuts away much that is unnecessary and hindering the productiveness of the Christian.
The Christian’s suffering is never pointless. Trials in the believer’s life are never an indication that God has forgotten His child or that His love has decreased. The Christian’s suffering is always a part of the gracious working of God to purge from sin and produce greater Christlikeness. Suffering is never fun, but it is always a cause to rejoice.