Since suffering is the experience of pain, it is unnatural to desire to suffer. We naturally and rightly wish to be blessed, comforted, taught, protected and prospered. We see around us every day examples of people who are being destroyed and who are suffering greatly, and we are moved with pity, fear and anger.
Yet we are taught by God that suffering is one of the main ways that He helps people. For example, He says through James that people should rejoice in their suffering, realizing that if they let suffering have its perfect work they will be made perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
The idea that God uses suffering to perfect those He loves is an unpleasant thought, but it is clearly taught in the Bible. Paul says that we are children of God, and joint-heirs with Christ, provided that we suffer with Him. Paul also said that “we rejoice in our suffering, realizing that suffering produces patience and hope.” In the book of Hebrews, we are told that God chastens those He loves and purifies His children through their suffering. Paul revealed that he and his apostolic team were “unbearably and utterly crushed to the point that we despaired of life itself”; but that they suffered these things so they would learn not to depend upon themselves but to depend upon God, and that they would be able to comfort others in pain. In another place, it is recorded that Paul asked Jesus to remove “a thorn in my flesh, the messenger of Satan” but that Jesus denied his request, explaining he wanted Paul to remain weak because His power is made perfect in weakness. Peter says to Christians: “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace…will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” A review of the lives of the principal Old Testament people chosen by God shows that suffering was a main method of forming them and, ultimately, blessing them.
So in certain people, suffering causes a paradoxical blessing. It produces peace, hope, trust, dependence on God, ability to hear God, compassion for others, humility, courage, faith and power. We are calling this redemptive suffering because it is being used by God to work good. That which usually produces despair, hopelessness, bitterness, defeat and death is being used by God to produce life from the dead.
Why is suffering usually destructive but redemptive in some people? It is not the degree of pain or the cause of the suffering that determines its effect, but rather the response of the person to his/her situation that determines the outcome.
God teaches that “all things work together for good for those that love God.” If a person loves God, then his or her suffering will be redeemed; that is, work good after it is completed. The person will be improved, and that person will be grateful for his or her suffering. This does not mean that it didn’t hurt. It wouldn’t really be suffering if it didn’t hurt. No, what this means is that people who love God will trust Him during their trial, continue to obey God while suffering, and patiently endure suffering. They will trust that it is for the best to suffer if God so wills it. This is not to say that their trust is tranquil and effortless, or that their obedience is perfect and easy, or that their endurance is steady and faultless. What is being said is this: a person who loves God will return to trust, will confess and repent if he or she sins, and will eventually and ultimately be sustained in endurance. God will help those who love Him, and see to it that they are not tested beyond their endurance, making a way for them to escape their trial. They will not be destroyed by their suffering.
It is worth noting that God is not distant during our suffering but is actually suffering with us during our pain.