Life Is Not About Not Suffering

A few days ago, I was reading an article on the web, when I came across a quote that stood out to me and exposes one of the great evils of our times. It was near the end of the article, quoting one of my fellow Millennials explaining why she thought it was immoral to have children: “No matter how good someone has it, they will suffer.” Well no duh. In this sin-cursed world suffering is par for the course. Now, in all fairness, this attitude isn’t new; it’s the same belief that motivated the oxymoronic ‘free love’ movement of the 60’s; the belief that pleasure is the ultimate good. Of course, if pleasure is the ultimate good, then it follows that suffering is the ultimate evil. This modern Epicurean belief system underlies most of the decision-making in our society, from the pursuit of economic benefits today at the cost of future generations’ prosperity to the manipulative games of hookup culture. This belief, although seldom if ever stated, is the foundational presupposition of our society.

The Bible presents us with a different view of suffering, in which suffering, although not good in and of itself, has a purpose in God’s good plan. Indeed, suffering can even be an occasion to glorify God (1 Peter 4:16). This is because, for the Christian, suffering is not pointless. Rather, our sufferings are part of God’s plan, and will glorify Him and redound to our benefit in this life or the next (Romans 8:28). It is this knowledge that our sufferings have purpose that sets Christians apart from the world.

For the presuppositional Epicureans of today, suffering cannot have a purpose, because it is the antithesis of the ultimate good: pleasure. This worldview is, ironically, one of the most destructive to humanity, because it doesn’t simply wreak physical damage, but destroys people mentally. People who prize pleasure above all else lose the ability to experience life as God meant it to be lived. They don’t go out and achieve great things, because they are difficult, and entail mild suffering. They miss out on even God’s common graces like marriage and children, because marriage is hard sometimes and children are demanding, expensive, inconvenient and detrimental to one’s immediate pleasure. They find themselves trapped in a minimum wage job, saddled with debt, and despairing of the future because they are unwilling to take the risk (suffer the uncertainty) of trying to change their lives. They refuse to examine their beliefs and attitudes, for fear they could be wrong, and never grow or improve. No wonder people are depressed, they have deprived themselves of opportunities to grow, and to experience the common graces that God gives to everyone. Above all, they deprive themselves of a purpose outside of their own pleasure, which makes those pleasures hollow and meaningless.

Christians, on the other hand, can find purpose in suffering, because what we do, we do out of love of God. Much like how a man will put in long hours at a job he hates to provide for the family he loves, Christians are willing to suffer for the glory of God, who we love. This doesn’t mean we seek out suffering for its own sake, but rather that we obey God, and take whatever suffering comes our way (1 Peter 4:15-16). This doesn’t just apply when tyrannical governments punish you for believing in Christ, it also applies when you didn’t watch the latest raunchy, soul-rotting garbage that passes for entertainment and now you’re the weird one at work. It applies when your friends think you’re a knuckle-dragging caveman for advocating for Biblical gender roles. Even these minor (when compared to being flogged) sufferings are given meaning when we do them to the glory of God. This doesn’t mean they are pleasant in the moment, but we can take comfort in the fact that our sufferings are not pointless; that they glorify God and that one day they will end in glory (1 Peter 5:10).

This is true even of mundane sufferings that don’t come about as a direct result of our being Christians. Bad stuff happens in a fallen world, and your car breaking down on the way to or from work is probably not the result of someone sabotaging your vehicle because they hate Christians. Unlike the heathens, we know that even the common sufferings that everyone deals with were ordained by God for our good and His glory. For Christians, a lost job, a bad diagnosis, or even just one of those days has a purpose in God’s plan, even if we never know what it is in this life. For this reason, we shouldn’t be deterred by suffering, we should expect it and be ready to endure it.

It is true that, no matter what, we will suffer. Unlike the world, however, that suffering doesn’t ruin our lives, because we have a purpose beyond our own pleasure. Our purpose is, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism summarizes, to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Suffering does not prevent us from glorifying God, in fact, we can glorify Him by depending on Him to get us through it. Suffering does not prevent us from enjoying Him; our sufferings here are temporary, but Heaven is eternal, and there will be no suffering there (Revelation 21:3-4). Yes, you will suffer. Your children will suffer. Life is hard, but God is always there for His people in their suffering. Rather than hiding from even the mildest suffering like a coward, a Christian should go out and live to the glory of God, knowing that He has a purpose in every adversity that befalls them and will not let His children suffer without cause. Suffering is not something that a Christian should fear, but it should drive us to depend on God when, not if, we suffer.

For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. – 2 Timothy 1:7

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