Rejoice in Our Sufferings

Rejoice in Our Sufferings

Written by David T. Crum |
Friday, October 20, 2023

Within the Scriptures, Christians can find comfort in their sufferings, knowing Christ is with them. Reformed teachings suggest that believers can view pain and suffering as a blessing. Discomfort sanctifies the soul and shifts believers’ focus to their heavenly Father rather than worldly pursuits.

The fear of the unknown in death is a valid thought. The world’s pain, suffering, and darkness are daily reminders of humanity’s fallen nature and state. John Calvin wrote, “It is abundantly clear, however, that we are poor earthworms, surrounded by decay and corruption. It is lamentable to see the misery to which we are exposed.”[1] J.C. Ryle agreed, writing, “The true Christian has a weak body and is frail like any other.”[2] Of course, after being redeemed by Jesus Christ, the believer has the assurance of their salvation and future eternity with their Lord and Savior.

Within the Scriptures, Christians can find comfort in their sufferings, knowing Christ is with them. Reformed teachings suggest that believers can view pain and suffering as a blessing. Discomfort sanctifies the soul and shifts believers’ focus to their heavenly Father rather than worldly pursuits.

Most believers have heard the phrase “rejoice in our sufferings.” Romans 5 reads:

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3–5

Here, Paul underlines the serenity faith can give in this fallen world. Calvin commented on this passage, “that no one might scoffingly object and say, that Christians, with all their glorying, are yet strangely harassed, and distressed in this life, which condition is far from being a happy one.”[3]  Later, he concludes, “We are then taught here what is the design of our tribulations, if indeed we would prove ourselves to be the children of God.”[4] Calvin emphasized that patience came to life through such tribulations, but not just patience: a godly comfort that brought forth heavenly understanding.

Christians can use this passage to assist them in comprehending debilitating and terminal illnesses. The assurance and seal of salvation provide peace and understanding that unbelievers do not possess. Calvin argued, “We have no fear that we will not reach heavenly life, a down payment on which we have through the Holy Spirit.”[5] Ryle argued, “The true Christian can think calmly about things to come and not be afraid.”[6]

Through sanctification, believers will grow in their comprehension of the faith. In his book Immortality, Loraine Boettner wrote, “The doctrine of immortality makes us aware that we are but temporary residents in this world. It was never intended that we should settle down here as permanent citizens.”[7] He proposed the following questions and answers:

How would you want to spend the time if you knew that tomorrow would be your last day on earth? Would you need to spend it asking for that forgiveness of sin which you should have asked for long ago? It is of course, infinitely better to make a death-bed repentance than not to repent at all. But many who put off until the last moment the matter of getting right with God find themselves unable to repent at that time.[8]

More impactful, Boettner shared with those suffering:

We sometimes hear it said that death through cancer, tuberculosis, or some other disease in which the person may be sick and perhaps suffer for a period of time is a horrible way to die. We believe, however, that for most people such a death, rather than one that occurs suddenly, as in heart failure, drowning or accident, at least affords a final period of preparation both as regards the person’s spiritual well-being and his earthly affairs.[9]

God has graciously enabled those living in a debilitating state to focus not on this world but on Heaven. Those suffering have no choice, as their physical limitations often limit their worldly affairs and provide stamina centered on God’s promises and comfort. Ryle wrote, “Sickness is painful; death is solemn; the judgment day is a solemn thing—but if Christ is for us, who can be against us? We have nothing to fear.”[10]

We must acknowledge that affliction can be a blessing that produces faith and spiritual discipline. In a conversation with a friend during the U.S. Civil War, Presbyterian Stonewall Jackson said:

Nothing earthly can mar my happiness. I know that heaven is in store for me; and I should rejoice in the prospect of going there tomorrow. Understand me: I am not sick; I am not sad; God has greatly blessed me; and I have as much to love here as any man, and life is very bright to me. But, still, I am ready to leave it any day, without trepidation or regret, for that heaven which I know awaits me, through the mercy of my Heavenly Father.[11]

Months later, Jackson became injured, being shot by friendly fire and eventually having his arm amputated. Days later, he succumbed to an infection that killed him. Before his death, he remarked on the loss of his arm:

You see me severely wounded, but not depressed, not unhappy. I believe it has been done according to God’s holy will, and I acquiesce entirely in it. You may think it strange, but you never saw me more perfectly contented than I am today; for I am sure that my Heavenly Father designs affliction for my good. I am perfectly satisfied that, either in this life, or in that which is to come, I shall discover that what is now regarded as a calamity is a blessing. And if it appears a great calamity, as it surely will be a great inconvenience, to be deprived of my arm, it will result in a great blessing. I can wait until God, in His own time, shall make known to be the object He has in thus afflicting me. But why should I not rather rejoice in it as a blessing, and not look on it as a calamity at all? If it were in my power to replace my arm, I would not dare to do it, unless I could know it was the will of my Heavenly Father.[12]

It takes discipline to rejoice in our sufferings. Suffering leads to a heavenly understanding and the assurance of being with Jesus forever. It further establishes priorities in this temporary world, and if embraced, it will strengthen one’s faith and trust in Jesus Christ.

David Crum holds a Ph.D. in Historical Theology. He serves as an Assistant Professor of History and Dissertation Chair. His research interests include the history of warfare and Christianity. He and his family attend Trinity Presbyterian Church (ARP) in Bedell, New Brunswick. 

[1] John Calvin, The Doctrine of Election: Translated from French by Robert White, (Edinburg: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2022), 170.

[2] J.C. Ryle, Happiness, (Durham: EP Books, 2018), 35.

[3] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XIX, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979), 190.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Calvin, The Doctrine of Election, 170.

[6] Ryle, Happiness, 37.

[7] Loraine Boettner, Immortality, (Louisville: GLH Publishing, 2020), 80.

[8] Ibid., 31.

[9] Ibid., 33.

[10] Ryle, Happiness, 37.

[11] Robert Lewis Dabney, Life and Campaigns of Stonewall Jackson, (New York: Blelock & Co., 1866), 588.

[12] Thomas Jackson Arnold, Early Life and Letters of General Thomas J. Jackson, (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1916), 290.

Scroll to top