Christians have long praised this verse and for good reason. Within its few words lay inestimable, life-giving treasure. In this one verse, we are taught that everything in a believer’s life is, without exception, worked out by God for their good. Everything that comes to us in this life, the really good things and the really bad things, comes to us from the hand of God and are to bless.
This includes suffering.
For the Christian, suffering ultimately comes to them from the hand of their Father and it is designed to bless, not harm. How can that be? How can suffering ever be a good thing? How can pain, sickness, poverty, etc. be anything but bad?
10 Ways God Uses Affliction for Our Good
Surely, there are ten-thousand answers to the question, but ten should suffice to get us started. From his excellent (& short!) book, All Things for Good, Thomas Watson gives ten ways that God uses affliction for the good of His people.
God Uses Suffering As Our Preacher or Tutor. Affliction teaches us about the sorrow sin brings to our world. Affliction wipes away any lofty views we may have of ourselves and teaches reveals who we really are. “A sick-bed often teaches more than a sermon.” God’s most important lessons are usually brought home through affliction.
God Uses Suffering to Make Our Hearts More Upright. “As we sometimes hold a crooked rod over the fire to straighten it; so God holds us over the fire of affliction to make us more straight and upright. Oh how good it is, when sin has bent our souls away from God, that affliction should straighten it again.”
God Uses Suffering to Make Us More Like Jesus. God brings us sorrows of our own so we may become more like the Man of Sorrows. “God’s rod is a pencil to draw Christ’s image more lively upon us…Was His head crowned with thorns and do we think to be crowned with roses?” God makes His servants like His Suffering Servant (see Isaiah 53) by bringing them through suffering.
God Uses Suffering to Help Destroy Sin in Us. Ultimately, pain, affliction, and hardship have come to us from sin. Hardship is a post-Genesis 3 word. Therefore, in enduring hardship, we are experiencing the true fruit of our sin. It is not sweet, but bitter as hell. “Sin is the mother, affliction is the daughter; the daughter helps to destroy the mother…Afflictions carry away nothing but the dross of sin.” Suffering is God’s chemotherapy to the cancer of our sin. It may hurt us and make us sick for a time, but it is given to help us get rid of the sin that truly kills.
God Uses Suffering to Loosen Our Hearts from the World. God will rip goods from our tightfisted hands”When you dig away the dirt from the root of the tree, it is to loosen the tree from the earth; so God digs away our earthly comforts to loosen our hearts from the earth.”
God Uses Suffering to Prepare Us for Comfort. Jesus said, “Your sorrow will turn to joy” (John 16:20). “Here is the water turned to wine. After the bitter pill, God gives sugar…God’s rod has honey at the end of it. The saints in affliction have had such sweet raptures of joy, that they thought themselves in the borders of heaven.”
God Uses Suffering to Honor Us. Watson says that suffering honors or exalts or magnifies us in three ways. First, our sufferings show that God thinks about us and cares for us by giving and sustaining us through suffering (see Job 7:17). Second, our sufferings (i.e. His discipline) show we are His sons (Hebrews 12:7). Third, our sufferings make us renowned among God’s people. “Soldiers have never been so admired for their victories as the saints have been for their sufferings…Job the sufferer was more renowned than Alexander the conqueror.”
God Uses Suffering to Make Us Happy. How can this be? God grows our faith through suffering and mature faith makes happy people. The holiest people are the happiest people. “When God sets our wordly comforts on fire, then we run to Hi and make our peace with Him. When the prodigal was pinched with want, then he returned home to his father. (Luke 15:13)…Thus affliction makes us happy in bringing us nearer to God.”
God Uses Suffering to Silence Non-Believers. Often times non-believers accuse Christians of following Jesus only because they have good and comfortable lives. Sound familiar? They claim that once our health and wealth are taken away, our faith will go with it. But, the suffering of God’s people shuts their mouths. “God will have His people endure sufferings for (Jesus) that He may put a padlock on the lying lips of wicked men.”
God Uses Suffering to Prepare Us for Glory. Suffering is the road to heaven. Suffering does not earn glory, but prepares our hearts for glory. “As plowing prepares the earth for a crop, so afflictions prepare and make us ready for glory. The painter lays his gold upon the dark colors, so God first lays the dark colors of affliction, and then He lays the golden colors of glory…The worst thing that God does to His children is whip them to heaven.”
Obviously, these ten ways God uses affliction for the good of His people is by no means the last word on suffering, but, as I said above, it is a good start. Nothing lies outside the powerful hand of our Sovereign God and in the hands of our Sovereign God all is designed for our (believers’) good. Because of this, we can truly pray and sing, “Lord, thank you for the trials…”