Once again, we’ve entered into the most festive season of the year. Christmas lights are carefully being hung, carols and Christmas songs are being sung, and throughout churches Christmas hand bells are being rung. To many, this is the happiest time of the year filled with laughter, anticipation, and endless delights.
But for others, the Christmas season is difficult. Painful memories from childhood, anniversaries of devastation, or recent personal loss are all common reasons for Christmas gloom. For those who suffer at Christmastime, a relevant question must be asked, “Why does God allow Christians to suffer?” The question is important not just for the Christmas season, but for life in general.
To answer such a difficult question, we must first definitively note that suffering does indeed come from the Lord. After enduring immense trials Job confidently stated, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away.” (Job 1:21) When Paul asked God to remove his “thorn in the flesh” the response was, “My grace is sufficient for you.” (2 Cor. 12:9) But the certainty of God-ordained suffering still begs the question – why does God allow Christians to suffer? Scripture gives at least five reasons for Christian suffering.
First, suffering is given to force the believer to rely on Christ’s strength and power, rather than themselves. Christ told Paul “for [My] power is perfected in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9) Therefore, Paul would boast in his weaknesses, understanding that God always strengthens the weary believer in the darkest of nights. Secondly, suffering is given through discipline to ensure genuine faith in the believer. Hebrews 12 tells us that discipline only happens to legitimate children (v. 8), is “for our good…to share His holiness” (v. 10), and ultimately produces “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (v. 11). Discipline is often given in the form of suffering, and yet is purposeful to grow us in holiness.
Thirdly, suffering is often given to the believer to visibly demonstrate God’s abundant providence. From Abraham to Moses, Hebrews 11 is replete with examples of God’s faithfulness sufficiently bringing His people through times of trial. When believers suffer and yet trust the Lord, others take notice and God is glorified. Fourthly, God allows Christians to suffer in order to comfort others who are also suffering. Paul purposes Christian suffering by saying, “the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we will be able to comfort those afflicted.” (2 Cor. 1:3-4) Christians have the honor and responsibility of comforting others with the sustaining comfort of God. Finally, God allows suffering so that we might be more Christ-like. Peter argued that “since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose.” (1 Pet. 4:1) Jesus Himself taught, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Matt. 16:24) The more the believer suffers for doing good (1 Pet. 3:17), the more he shares in both Christ’s suffering and consummate victory.
Christian, endure today through all trials and earthly sorrows by trusting that God has ordained your suffering, will use it for a purpose, and will cause “all things to work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” (Rom. 8:28)