Therefore since we have been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, 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 5:1-5 ESV)
In my life, it has been hard for me to trust God, because I know that He often allows people, even Christians, to suffer tremendously. How can I trust Him with my future if His will could involve intense suffering? How can I trust His love for me when there are other believers right now who are starving?
Suffering can threaten our faith by tempting us to abandon our trust in God and give up on obedience. Yet the same circumstances that Satan hopes will destroy our faith are the ones that God uses to build it up.
Romans 5 describes how God uses suffering to purify our faith. In this passage, it doesn’t sound like the writer is asking the question, “How can a loving God allow Christians to suffer?” Rather, it seems like he’s expressing, “God is awesome because look what He does through our suffering!” Verse 2 says, “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God,” and verse 3 says, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings.” It seems like rejoicing in our sufferings is even better than simply rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God, because suffering produces even more hope. (This hope we have in Christ means certainty, a 100% guarantee, a promise.)
This is why James can say, “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.” (James 1:2-4) We can actually be happy about trials and tests because they produce steadfastness and help us become like Christ. We want to be steadfast. The one who is steadfast is blessed, unlike the one who doubts, who is “like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6) Suffering strengthens our faith and helps us be steadfast instead of tossed by the wind.
Suffering is going to come (again) in my life, and I expect it to be more intense. I don’t have to fear it because of the hope I have in Christ. When suffering comes, I can rejoice because I know that it will produce endurance, character, and hope. Isn’t it amazing how suffering actually produces hope? Hope isn’t something that simply gets us through suffering. We get more hope because of suffering. Because of God’s love, our hope does not put us to shame. The New King James translation says, “Now hope does not disappoint.” I can’t imagine suffering from persecution, sickness, accidents, broken relationships or anything else that wouldn’t involve disappointment. Often the disappointment is intense and heart-breaking. But the hope that this suffering produces in the life of a believer does not disappoint! It is based on Jesus Christ and is the certainty that we will see the glory of God.
In addition, God doesn’t simply tell us to rely on a vague understanding of His love to get us through the suffering that ultimately produces this hope; He pours out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Among many other things, that means that God is actually present with us through our suffering.
So, why does God allow Christians to suffer? Because He loves us.