Why Do We Suffer as Christians? What are the Purposes of Affliction?

Brian Crain – Hallelujah

I believe of the most freeing things for a Christian to understand is that all of their pain and suffering isn’t random and is working toward their good (Romans 8:28). We can walk in confidence knowing Christ lives in us (2 Cor 13:5, Gal 2:20), being able to thank Him for affliction and scars as we go down these often dark and lonely paths and sharing in His sufferings (Phil 1:29, 3:10). Always remembering that nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:35-39). We can be confident He will finish the good work He started in us (Phil 1:6), as we cast our anxieties on Him because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). We can be confident He will never leave or forsake us (Heb 13:5).

We shouldn’t seek suffering or glorify in it, but we can appreciate how it is used for our good and say along with Job, “though He slay me, I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15).  Suffering isn’t the only side of the coin, there is also much joy and peace to have in this place as God’s love, grace, and mercy also flows here; along with an eternity to look forward to with no more tears, death, or pain (Revelation 21:4).

While pain and suffering can be a result of evil, they are not an evil in themselves; they can serve to protect us, make us stronger, equip us to comfort others, and draw us closer to God. We must be prepared to take up our cross and follow Him (Luke 14:27), facing the reality of persecution in our pursuit of holiness (2 Timothy 3:12). Through many tribulations must we enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22), pressing forward to win the prize in Christ Jesus (Phil 3:14), running this race to win (1 Cor 9:24).

No matter how tough things get, we know the victory is already won and we can truly say “it is well with my soul” for we have peace with the Creator of the Universe. All authority on heaven and earth is His (Matt 28:18). By faith in Christ, you have already overcome the world (1 John 5:4-5). He’s collecting your tears (Psalm 56:8) and your suffering isn’t meaningless.

“The flowers smell sweetest after a shower; vines bear the better for bleeding; the walnut-tree is most fruitful when most beaten; saints spring and thrive most internally, when they are most externally afflicted. Afflictions are the mother of virtue.
— Thomas Brooks

Have joy, trials test our faith and produce steadfastness, leading to the crown of life.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.  But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind… Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”
James 1:2-6, 12

Do not be surprised when trials come.  Rejoice, you have the honor of sharing in Christ’s sufferings.

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.  But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.”
1 Peter 4:12-16

“Remember this, had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there.”
— Charles Spurgeon

Affliction causes us to rely on God and teaches us to comfort others.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.  If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.
2 Corinthians 1:3-9

“I would go to the deeps a hundred times to cheer a downcast spirit. It is good for me to have been afflicted, that I might know how to speak a word in season to one that is weary.”
— Charles Spurgeon

God disciplines His children for their good, so that they may share in His holiness and bear fruit.

“For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?  For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.  For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
Hebrews 12:6–11

“Affliction, doubtless, is not joyous, but grievous: but it qualifies us for services for which we should otherwise be unfit.”
— Charles Simeon

To show the power belongs to God.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.“
2 Corinthians 4:7-12

The inner self is being renewed, suffering is light and momentary in comparison to the glory ahead. Long term perspective is key.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4:16–18

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.“
Romans 8:18

“Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust him for his grace; behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face. His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour; the bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flow’r.”
— William Cowper

His grace is sufficient, His power made perfect in weakness.  When we are weak, then we are strong.

“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
2 Corinthians 12:7-10

“God deliberately chooses weak, suffering, and unlikely candidates to get His work done, so that in the end, the glory goes to God and not the person.”
— Joni E. Tada

“We can have no power from Christ unless we live in a persuasion that we have none of our own.”
— John Owen

Be humble, casting all your anxieties on Him. Resist the enemy. You aren’t alone in this and the suffering won’t last forever.  Christ will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because He cares for you.  Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
1 Peter 5:6-11

“Extraordinary afflictions are not always the punishment of extraordinary sins, but sometimes the trial of extraordinary graces. Sanctified afflictions are spiritual promotions.”
— Matthew Henry

We rejoice in our suffering because of what it produces; endurance, character, and hope.

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Romans 5:3-5

Afflictions bring us back when we go astray.

“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. You are good and do good; teach me your statutes.”
Psalm 119:67-68

“Affliction draws away our heart from the love of the world; it makes us long more for the time when we shall be translated from this scene of sin and sorrow.”
— Arthur W. Pink

Our faith is being refined through the trials, rejoice!

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
1 Peter 1:6-7

“Those who sing loudest in the Kingdom will be those who on earth had the greatest bodily suffering. We pity them now, but then we shall almost envy them.”
— Andrew Bonar

Wait on the Lord, your strength will be renewed.

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.  He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might He increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
Isaiah 40:28-31

“The Lord measures your temptations and weighs your strength. He gives the shoulders, and fits the burden, and will never lay on you more than He will enable you to bear.”
— Isaac Ambrose

His yoke is easy and His burden is light, He is the rest for your soul.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30

Always looking to Jesus, the hope of glory.

“Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
Hebrews 12:2-3

Misc Quotes

“Suffering so unbolts the door of the heart, that the Word has easier entrance.”
— Richard Baxter

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“I cared not where or how I lived, or what hardships I went through, so I could but gain souls to Christ.”
— David Brainerd

“Affliction causes the graces in the soul to be lively and active.”
— Wilhelmus à Brakel

“Afflictions are a golden key by which the Lord opens the rich treasure of his word to his people’s souls.”
— Thomas Brooks

“Consider that the trials and troubles, the calamities and miseries, the crosses and losses that you meet with in this world, are all the hell that ever you shall have.”
— Thomas Brooks

“In times of affliction we commonly meet with the sweetest experiences of the love of God.”
— John Bunyan

“Your mercies are more than your afflictions.”
— Jeremiah Burroughs

“You will not find one godly man who came out of an affliction worse than when he went into it. Though for a little while he was shaken, yet, at last, he was better for an affliction. But, a great many godly men have been worse for their prosperity.”
— Jeremiah Burroughs

“In the school of affliction God reads lectures upon his attributes, and expounds himself unto his people, so that many times they come to know more of God by half a year’s suffering, than by many years’ sermons.”
— Thomas Case

“Losses and disappointments are the trials of our faith, our patience, and our obedience. When we are in the midst of prosperity, it is difficult to know whether we have a love for the Benefactor or only for His benefits. It is in the midst of adversity that our piety is put to the trial.”
— John Fawcett

“He feels all our sorrows, needs, and burdens as his own. That is why it is said that the sufferings of believers are called the sufferings of Christ.”
— John Flavel

“Suffering brings out graces that cannot be seen in a time of health. It is the treading of the grapes that brings out the sweet juices of the vine; so it is affliction that draws forth submission, weanedness from the world, and complete rest in God. Use afflictions while you have them.”
— Robert Murray M’Cheyne

“Who can comfort us in our afflictions? None but Jesus. He knew deeper sorrows than we have ever known, or will ever know. His heart is not made of stone. He feels with us. O afflicted believer, commit your weeping, suffering and trembling soul to Jesus.”
— Robert Murray M’Cheyne

“Nothing in this world is more beautiful than a Christian life with many trials and cares — yet remaining ever peaceful and joyous amid them all. This is the real goal of noble Christian living.”
— J.R. Miller

“God uses chronic pain and weakness, along with other afflictions, as his chisel for sculpting our lives. Felt weakness deepens dependence on Christ for strength each day. The weaker we feel, the harder we lean. And the harder we lean, the stronger we grow spiritually, even while our bodies waste away. To live with your ‘thorn’ uncomplainingly — that is, sweet, patient, and free in heart to love and help others, even though every day you feel weak — is true sanctification. It is true healing for the spirit. It is a supreme victory of grace.”
— J.I. Packer

“It is better to be sick, provided Christ comes to the bedside, than to be healthy and never to be visited by God.”
— Samuel Rutherford

“If we are true Christians, we must not expect everything smooth in our journey to heaven. We must count it no strange thing, if we have to endure sicknesses, losses, bereavements, and disappointments, just like other men. Free pardon and full forgiveness, grace along the way, and glory at the endall this our Savior has promised to give. But He has never promised that we shall have no afflictions.”
— J.C. Ryle

“Trials are intended to make us think, to wean us from the world, to send us to the Bible, to drive us to our knees.”
— J.C. Ryle

“Glory follows afflictions, not as the day follows the night but as the spring follows the winter; for the winter prepares the earth for the spring, so do afflictions sanctified prepare the soul for glory.”
— Richard Sibbes


“As men cherish young plants at first, and fence them about to keep them from hurt, but when they are grown, they remove them, and then leave them to the wind and weather, so God besets His children first with props of inward comforts, but afterwards exposes them to storms and winds, because they are better able to bear it. Therefore let no man think himself the better because he is free from troubles. It is because God sees him not fit to bear greater.”
— Richard Sibbes

“The suffering of the Christian or anyone else in this world is never ultimately an accident. All suffering is within the pale of divine sovereignty. All suffering comes within the broader context of the sovereignty of God.”
— R.C. Sproul

“The Lord gets His best soldiers out of the highlands of affliction.”
— Charles Spurgeon

“The more bitter the vessel of grief, the sweeter the cup of consolation; the heavier weight of trial here, the brighter the crown of glory hereafter.”
— Charles Spurgeon

“You will never know the fullness of Christ until you know the emptiness of everything but Christ.”
— Charles Spurgeon

“Do not despair, dear heart, but come to the Lord with all your jagged wounds, black bruises, and running sores. He alone can heal, and He delights to do it. It is our Lord’s office to bind up the brokenhearted, and He is gloriously at home at it.”
— Charles Spurgeon

“Our pain and longings make sure we will never be content, but that’s good; it is to our benefit that we do not grow comfortable in a world destined for decay.”
— Joni Eareckson Tada

“A true saint carries Christ in his heart and the cross on his shoulders. “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” Christ and His cross are never parted. It is too much for a Christian to have two heavens, one here and another hereafter.”
— Thomas Watson

“Afflictions add to the saints’ glory.  The more the diamond is cut, the more it sparkles; the heavier the saints’ cross is, the heavier will be their crown.”
— Thomas Watson

“Many pray ‘Let this cup pass away,’ but few, ‘Thy will be done.'”
— Thomas Watson

“The sharp frosts of affliction bring on the spring flowers of grace.”
— Thomas Watson

Misc Verses

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”
Job 1:21

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Joshua 1:9

“The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”
Psalm 18:2

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
Psalm 23:1-4

“Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses. Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins.”
Psalm 25:16-18

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”
Psalm 27:1

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”
Psalm 34:18-19

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
Psalm 37:4

“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”
Psalm 43:5

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea.”
Psalm 46:1-2

“Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.”
Psalm 57:1

“Hear my cry, O God; Attend to my prayer. From the end of the earth I will cry to You, When my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”
Psalms 61:1-2

“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory;  my mighty rock, my refuge is God.”
Psalms 62:5-7

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.'”
Psalm 91:1-2

“It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.”
Psalm 119:71

“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. The Lord will keep you from all evil; He will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.”
Psalm 121:1-2, 7-8

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”
Psalm 147:3

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
Proverbs 3:5-6

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.”
Isaiah 26:3-4

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Isaiah 41:10

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”
Isaiah 43:2

“For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”
Isaiah 54:10

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”
Romans 12:12

Hope in Him

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
Lamentations 3:21-24

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
John 14:6

What is the Gospel? How can I be saved?

Come rejoice now, O my soul, for His love is my reward. fear is gone and hope is sure, Christ is mine forevermore! – CityAlight

Featured Image: Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1630.

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