Recently I spoke with a Christian who was walking through a time of suffering in his life that he found overwhelming. Physical trials, family trials, and a recent loss were all converging upon him at once.
This brother loved the Lord and had actively served Him for years. As he shared his pain, it seemed clear to me that he had been seeking the Lord with a pure heart and desired to see the Lord be glorified. And as I listened to his tearful words, It was evident that he had earnestly sought the Lord in prayer. He had not failed to ask the Lord, and there was no evidence that he was asking of the Lord simply to fulfill his own desires (James 4:2, 3).
Still yet, his painful circumstances clouded his mind with confusion and questions. The questions he asked were the kind I have heard many times in ministry and ones I have asked during my own trials.
The Common Questions We Ask
When we go through times of suffering, there are common questions that often flood our minds.
- “Why did God allow this to happen the way it did?”
- “Why has God not answered my prayers?”
- “Why does it feel like God is not at work for me?”
In the middle of our suffering, our tendency is to allow our minds to be consumed with questions that can’t be answered in that moment and may never be answered. We may be asking with sincere motives, but with most of the questions that flood our minds, the honest answer is, “I don’t know.” Little to no comfort is found in that answer. What we need is a change of perspective. When it comes to suffering, don’t focus on what you don’t know, focus on what you do know.
What We Do Know
Rather than being controlled by our thoughts and emotions, we need to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Scripture is filled with wonderful promises that should captivate our hearts and minds as we walk through times of suffering. With all the things that you don’t know, there are absolute certainties God has revealed in Scripture that you do know.
- You are God’s child, and He loves you. (1 John 3:1)
- God won’t abandon you. He will never leave you nor forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)
- The LORD is your helper, and you have no need to fear. (Psalm 118:6)
- If you lack wisdom, ask of God and He will give it to you. (James 1:5)
- God will comfort you in all your affliction. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)
While there may be many questions we may never have answered, these are some of the promises that we know. But one of the most encouraging passages to help us face suffering is Romans 8:18-27.
A Biblical Response to Suffering
Paul’s words in Romans 8:18-39 are deeply profound and vital to responding to suffering in our lives. Many commentaries and books have expounded upon this passage, and no single article could come close to exhausting its richness. However, I wish to make three central points that Paul says should impact our response to suffering.
Gain an eternal perspective (Romans 8:18-27)
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18)
Paul says the present suffering in this life can’t be compared to the glory that awaits us in eternity. This might cause you to wonder if Paul is minimizing our suffering. But Paul isn’t insensitive or oblivious to real pain and suffering. He had experienced tremendous suffering in his own life (2 Corinthians 11:23-27). Therefore, Paul is giving us an eternal perspective by which to view our temporal suffering. He isn’t diminishing or minimizing our suffering. He’s using the realities of our suffering to elevate the future hope that believers have.
The longer I live, the more suffering and anguish I see. And if the glory that awaits us in eternity exceeds the suffering we see and experience in this life, how glorious our future hope must be!
One reminder that suffering gives the Christian is how this world is not our home. We’re not to have our hearts at rest in this world. We’re to have an eternal perspective that we’re ultimately made for eternity. God gives us wonderful pleasures in this life, but He doesn’t want us to mistake this world for our final home. And He wants us to know that the glory that awaits us far exceeds the totality of all the suffering we’ve experienced in this life. Our ultimate hope is not what we see in this world, but what we know God has promised.
Furthermore, he hasn’t left us alone in this world to carry the weight of our suffering by ourselves. Sometimes the burdens in our heart or so heavy that we don’t even know what to pray. And God has given us the Holy Spirit who “helps our weakness” and “intercedes for us” (Romans 8:26).
What an incredible truth to know that God is never more at work for you than when you’re suffering. Pain and suffering are not an indication that God has abandoned you. It’s a reminder that God is working within you to accomplish His perfect sovereign plan for your life.
Trust in God’s sovereign plan (Romans 8:28-32)
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28)
If you’re a believer, you can know God has a loving plan for you and that nothing can get in the way of God accomplishing His purpose for you. All things – even our suffering – is working for our good. God’s plan for the believer is to conformed into the image of Christ, and He will finish that process. God wants you to know that everything that happens in your life is used by Him to prepare you for the future revelation of glory, which far exceeds the suffering we experience in this life.
Rest in God’s everlasting love (Romans 8:33-39)
“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will affliction, or turmoil, or persecution… For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created things, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35, 38, 39).
It is a wonderful truth to know that nothing in this life can separate us from the love of God, not even death. The reality is that none of us will escape suffering in this world because all of us are going to die. But for those who know Christ, death does not have the final say. Don’t wait until you die to rest in peace. No matter what you’re facing in your life right now, you can rest in the peace of God’s everlasting love.
We can be confident of God’s love for all of eternity because He perfectly demonstrated His love when He gave His own Son for our salvation. Whatever suffering you may face in your life right now, Christ’s sacrificial death for you reminds you that God is not withholding from you. Romans 8:32 says, “He who indeed did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” Get your heart and mind fixed on what you know!