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Sunday LeftoversSuffering is not embraced by most believers.  The flesh compels us to avoid suffering, to call suffering “bad,” and to assume, like Job’s friends, that something has gone terribly wrong spiritually if we or our friends suffer or are persecuted.

But the consistent testimony of Scripture is that suffering is normal and to be expected by every believer (cf. Jn. 15:18-20; 2 Tim. 3:10-13; 1 Pt. 4:12-19).

There are various reasons that the Lord allows and brings suffering into the lives of his people.  One of those reasons is given by Peter:  “to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation” (1 Pt. 4:13).  The key to understanding this verse are the words, “so that.”  One purpose of our sufferings is to prepare us to rejoice in Christ in eternity.  When Christ is revealed as King at the inauguration of His Kingdom, we will be enraptured with Him and delight in Him.

But that joy is not always experienced by us now; we don’t delight in Christ the way we ought and we don’t entrust ourselves to His care and we are prone to worry and anxiety.  So God designs suffering and persecution to remove any crutch on which we lean that is not Him. The truth is, we need suffering and pain to remind us to orient our lives to Christ and not to the “provisions” of this world.

C. S. Lewis explains this purpose of God in his book, The Problem of Pain:

My own experience is something like this. I am progressing along the path of life in my ordinary contentedly fallen and godless condition, absorbed in a merry meeting with my friends for the morrow or a bit of work that tickles my vanity to-day, a holiday or a new book, when suddenly a stab of abdominal pain that threatens serious disease, or a headline in the newspapers that threatens us all with destruction, sends this whole pack of cards tumbling down. At first I am overwhelmed, and all my little happinesses look like broken toys. Then, slowly and reluctantly, bit by bit, I try to bring myself into the frame of mind that I should be in at all times. I remind myself that all these toys were never intended to possess my heart, that my true good is in another world and my only real treasure is Christ. And perhaps, by God’s grace, I succeed, and for a day or two become a creature consciously dependent on God and drawing its strength from the right sources. But the moment the threat is withdrawn, my whole nature leaps back to the toys: I am even anxious, God forgive me, to banish from my mind the only thing that supported me under the threat because it is now associated with the misery of those few days. Thus the terrible necessity of tribulation is only too clear. God has had me for but forty-eight hours and then only by dint of taking everything else away from me. Let Him but sheathe that sword for a moment and I behave like a puppy when the hated bath is over — I shake myself as dry as I can and race off to reacquire my comfortable dirtiness, if not in the nearest manure heap, at least in the nearest flower bed. And that is why tribulations cannot cease until God either sees us remade or sees that our remaking is now hopeless.