Divine Purposes in Human Suffering

 •  3 min. read  •  grade level: 11
At various times, and in diverse places, scripture presents suffering as fulfilling six separate purposes in divine economy.
In the case of the Egyptians, first of all, it is inflicted as punishment for sin—the oppression of Israel.
In the history of David again, we read the record that before he was afflicted he went astray; but that the result of suffering was his establishment in faithfulness to the word of God.
In Job is found the record of God's lovingkindness in His dealings with the patient Patriarch even from his earliest days (Job 31:1818(For from my youth he was brought up with me, as with a father, and I have guided her from my mother's womb;) (Job 31:18), amended). “He brought me up as a father, and guided me from my mother's womb,” and yet Job is brought to confess, in spite of all that God had been to him, “I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” His deliverance from himself is at length accomplished through his sufferings, and even more abundant blessing marks the close of his history.
In the story of the few interesting incidents in the life of the apostle Paul, he tells us with unmistakable plainness, that the thorn in the flesh was sent for the express purpose of preventing self-exaltation, and thus suffering wrought in the prevention of sin.
In Heb. 2:1010For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. (Hebrews 2:10) we read that the Captain of our salvation was made perfect through sufferings, sufferings that were preparation for His work and necessary concomitants thereof.
Finally, in some incidents in the life of the Philippians, we find suffering in the character of divine gift, or privilege. Christ's mystic body, like her all-glorious Head, is destined to suffering on earth preparatory to the everlasting reign of the Lord's Anointed, and so she suffers in those of her members endowed with the gracious gift.
Amongst the many good and perfect gifts bestowed by the bounty of our liberal giving God, this is the one less frequently imparted, perhaps, than all others—at least now-a-days. For though it be morally best of all, who covet this gift earnestly? and few there be who can exercise it to the great Giver's worthy praise. It is not the eloquent and persuasive tongue, that convinces the conscience, and touches the heart; which brings repentant sinners in living faith to God, and then builds them up in their most holy faith. It is not the outbreathing of the poetic soul in fine frenzy, kindling earnest thought into energetic action. It is not the genius of the painter quickening dull canvas into quivering, palpitating life and movement. It is not the sculptor's magic touch creating a loving soul in the chilly marble; nor is it the mysterious power in the great organizers of victory, that leads warrior hosts to heroic deeds of self-immolation; nor is it any other gift or might that wins world-wide renown and amplitude of fortune. No, indeed, it is none of these gifts, nor anything in the least degree resembling any of them. For they, upon whom the heavenly boon referred to is bestowed, get none of the rewards men love to lavish upon those whom they delight to honor.
But the poor sufferers for His dear sake, though their sufferings and themselves be alike unknown to their fellows, have already His approving smile consciously; and in due time they shall have His great reward—His who trod so valiantly the path they now pursue. For to all such is written, “Unto you it is given on the behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake. Yea, “If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him.” The gracious gift of suffering is as distinct and specific a gift as that of healing, or of tongues, or any other of God's natural gifts that win honor and renown as well as more substantial rewards. But this gift transforms the blessed recipient more surely perhaps than all the others into resemblance to Himself, and is for this fellowship, the highest, greatest, noblest of them all. EMETH.