The Responsibility of Suffering

by Michael Kelley July 27, 2015

Life can change in the blink of an eye. One moment, everything is normal and the next…

There’s the phone call. Or the conversation. Or the doctor’s appointment.

And suddenly, your life has been divided before your very eyes. And though you don’t know for sure all the implications of what just happened, you do know that you’ll look back on that moment as a dividing line—there was life before that moment, and now there is life after.

When we turn to Scripture during times like these, we find pain and difficulty described in a curious way. We see that there is, much as we might not want it, a responsibility associated with these times of strain. Take a look at how Paul describes suffering in Philippians 1:

“For it has been given to you on Christ’s behalf not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him, having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I have” (Philippians 1:29).

It has been given to you… as in a gift. Suffering is the gift that no one wants, and yet God chooses to give sometimes nonetheless. If you’ve sat in the middle of the muck and mire of pain and difficulty, “gifted” is about the last thing you feel. How, then, can Paul say that suffering is not something thrust upon us, but instead something granted to us? Perhaps there are at least two reasons:

1. For our own sake.

In the book of James, we find that difficulty has personal and spiritual benefit to it: “Consider it great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4).

In other words, there is a piece of spiritual maturity that can only come along with difficulty. Without those difficulties, we will never be made complete in Christ. Pain, then, in the hands of God, is the means by which He develops His character in us. But it’s not just for our own benefit that we are given difficulties…

2. For the sake of another.

Paul would say it like this: “Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our afflictions, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction through the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

There is a comfort chain happening in these verses. We, as God’s children find ourselves in pain and God is faithful to bring us comfort. Then we are bound to bring the same comfort to those around us who find themselves in a similar kind of pain.

Now why is that important? It’s because our tendency to turn inward during times of trial. It’s our inclination to be swallowed in a sea of ourselves and, potentially, never to come back up for air. But here, in the midst of our difficulty, we find the Lord meeting us, working in us and working through us. And, though in the moment we find no reason in thinking it so, we come to see the gift that is difficulty, not only for our own benefit, but also for the sake of others.