“Life is pain…Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.”
-Westley, The Princess Bride
We all know life hurts. While at times we may enjoy the sunshine of the mountain peaks, we are bound to spend some time in the dark valleys too. Thankfully we have a promise:
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
God promises to bring everything together for our good, for our benefit…if we love Him. But what benefit can be derived from pain? How can trials and suffering be good? What reason does God have to bring difficulty into His children’s lives? This past week or so, I’ve been contemplating two key reasons for trials and suffering.
1. God Uses Trials and Suffering to Prove Us
The book of Job is an amazing case study for trials intended for proving us. In Job 1, we see Satan coming to account for himself before God. While he is there, God offers up a challenge of sorts:
Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”
Job 1: 8
And thus the gauntlet is thrown, for Satan is sure no man would serve God without ample compensation. After all, Job was wealthy, healthy, and happy. Why shouldn’t he serve God? But what would he do stripped of all the fruffery and “extra comforts” of this life? Would he still serve God?
The next eighteen verses lay out the destruction of all that Job held dear. In these few verses we read about the loss of Job’s livestock, his children, and eventually his health. His reaction in Job 1:21 still amazes me:
“Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.
The rest of the book is a revelation of hearts. We see Jobs heart as he grieves in silence with his friends. We see his friends’ hearts as they strive to encourage Job to a just life. In the end, we get a rare glimpse of Heaven, as God speaks to Job himself, revealing His heart and His power.
The book of Job is a prime example of God using trials and suffering to prove us. The trials put in Job’s life revealed/proved the nature of Job’s heart. Job’s heartache proved that his devotion to God was not dependent upon pleasant circumstances.
Trials and suffering have a unique ability to bring out the true nature of our hearts. Pressure and pain reveal the hidden darkness and sin, or the deep foundation of a true dependence on the Lord. When we know the true state of our heart, we are better prepared to submit to the cleansing, perfecting guidance of the Lord.
In the midst of all the turmoil, Job presents some of the most comforting and encouraging words about trails that prove us. Job 23:10 says:
“But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.”
Just as gold is refined, God uses trials and suffering in our lives to burn off the dross and purify our hearts.
2. God Uses Trials and Suffering to Prepare Us
The book of Job has 42 chapters dedicated to the story of Jobs trials, but another Bible character’s woes are summed up in a few simple words. 1 Samuel 1 introduces us to a man, Elkanah, and his wife, Hannah. Verse two brings us to the heart of the trouble:
“But Hannah had no children.”
As our family read through this passage recently, I was touched by three small words in verse 7:
“Year by year.”
Elkanah was a godly man, and he went to worship the Lord as was required of the Jews. He went up for an offering to the Lord “Year by year.” You may be wondering why I felt this was significant. It wasn’t for Elkanah’s faithfulness; rather it was for Hannah’s suffering.
Job tells a hard tale: the loss of everything precious. Job has a whole book dedicated to his suffering. We watch his journey. We see the proving of his heart.
Hannah’s story is similarly heart wrenching. She hasn’t lost the desires of her heart, she simply cannot attain them. But her story is not the focus of an entire book. Instead, her suffering and trials are limited to a few scattered words: year by year she had no children.
So why did Job’s story get a book while Hannah’s was barely cliff notes? I think one very important reason is the purpose of their suffering. Job is the poster child for proving trials. But that isn’t what God had in store for Hannah. Hannah’s trials weren’t focused on proving her. God was preparing her.
In 1 Samuel 1:10 we see Hannah leaving her husband’s commemorative feast for some time alone with God.
“In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly.”
Hannah’s heart was constantly, painfully aware of her childless condition. However, this time of worship and praise was particularly painful for her. Her husband’s second wife (I know, bad idea) constantly goaded Hannah about her lack of children. But when the time of worship came, jealousy goaded her to provoke Hannah even more.
In her distraught condition, she made a vow to God:
“And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life...”
1 Samuel 1:11
Her desire for a child drove her to an extreme sacrifice. If God would give her a son, she would give him back. He would work in the temple and be a full time servant of the Lord from his youth. She was willing to sacrifice the special moments she would have had raising him, if the Lord would simply be willing to let her have him.
Now let’s imagine we could erase a few words from Hannah’s story. What if we could remove the trial, the year by year that Hannah had no children.
- Do you think this new, un-suffering Hannah would have begged for a son only to give Him up?
- Do you think this new, pain free Hannah would have been willing to dedicate her unborn child to a life of service far away from her?
- Do you think this happy wife would have even thought of such things?
Hannah’s trials were necessary, because they prepared her for what she needed to do. Her trials put her in a place to offer her greatest treasure in service of the Heavenly King. Her suffering gave Israel one of it’s greatest prophets: Samuel.
Sometimes the pain, the suffering of life, can seem senseless…meaningless. After all, where is the sense in the death of ten beloved, adult children or the loss of all you own? Where is the meaning in year after year of the same devastating bareness?
When we face these questions, when we are drowning in the pain, we must remember, God has promised to work all things for our good if we love Him. Sometimes the trials will prove us. Sometimes they will prepare us for the path ahead. But they will always propel us in the way God has planned for us.