We come into this world needy, and we leave it the same way. Without suffering we would forget our neediness. If suffering seems too high a price for faith, it’s because we underestimate faith’s value.
In the West, with our conspicuous prosperity and ease, Christianity’s popularity continues to shrink. In Africa, Asia, and South America, with much greater adversity and suffering, Christianity continues to grow. Josef Tson, nearly martyred in Ceauşescu’s Romania, told me that 95 percent of Christians pass the test of adversity, while 95 percent fail the test of prosperity.
J. B. Phillips translates James 1:2–4, “When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives, my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realise that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men of mature character, men of integrity with no weak spots.”
How can we possibly obey this command to welcome difficulties instead of resenting them? By trusting that God tells the truth when He says these make us better people, increase our endurance, expand our ministry, and prepare us for eternal joy. If learning to trust God is good for us and God loves us enough to act for our good, why are we surprised when difficulties come?
My father, a Great Depression survivor, was a physically powerful and fiercely independent man. As he got older his strength faded. This opened his life to help from others—first from me, later from God. I took him shopping and helped him in ways he’d never have accepted before. Age, weakness, and incapacity humbled this proud man—and his eternity will be dramatically better because of it.
C. S. Lewis said in The Problem of Pain, “The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it.” Our self-will deceives us; in loss, tragedy, and suffering we may finally come to terms with our need for help.
Why do God’s children undergo pressures, suffering, and deadly peril? Paul answers clearly: “that we might not rely on ourselves but on God” (2 Corinthians 1:11). God uses our weakness and inadequacy not only to build our character, but also to manifest His strength and grace to us and through us.
On this subject, a few weeks ago Nanci and I watched an excellent video from Paul David Tripp together. (I’ve mentioned before how much we love Paul’s book New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional. We highly recommend it.)
Paul says, “Suffering exposes our theology. …Suffering will deepen your faith or it will weaken it. …Your suffering is not a failure of God’s plan. …In suffering, God reveals us, and reveals Himself. …The weakness of suffering is a workroom for grace.”