It is amazing what struggles people will endure when they do so for a purpose they believe in. It is amazing what struggles people will deliberately bring upon themselves when they believe such struggles are the means to a desirable end. Athletes endure endless hours of training, excruciating times of preparation, and the pain of pushing themselves to the very edge of their endurance. And they do it all for the glory of a trophy, medal, or personal best. Students endure long hours, late nights, and difficult exams when they believe that their studies will eventually lead to a comfortable and fulfilling career. Women endure the struggles of pregnancy, the pains of labor, and the midnight feedings all for the joy of being a mother to a child.
But what of the trials we do not choose for ourselves, the trials that are thrust upon us without our desire and without our consent? What of the trials that do not lead to achieving a goal or attaining a sense of fulfillment? What of the trials that arise from without instead of within, from the mysteries of God’s providence rather than the longing of our hearts?
In such times, it is a tremendous blessing for Christians to consider why God has created us and why God has called us to live in this world. The chief end of man, the Catechism says sublimely, is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. This is the chief and meta purpose, the purpose that encompasses all we are, all we do, and all we experience. It is the purpose that suffuses every lesser circumstance as well—including our times of suffering.
So what is the chief end of suffering, we might ask? The chief end of suffering is to glorify God and enjoy him. The chief end of trials is to glorify God and enjoy him. The chief end of affliction is to glorify God and enjoy him. The purpose of our lives is the purpose of our times of struggle, loss, grief, illness, and bereavement.
God may be accomplishing many things through our times of difficulty. He may be shifting our gaze from earth to heaven and causing us to have a greater longing for his presence. He may be refining our hearts and increasing our faith. He may be using our trials to bless and encourage others or to set an example they can follow. He may be making use of our suffering to show the world around us that our love for him is deep, real, and lasting and that we will love him in the darkness as much as we claim in the light.
But in all of it, we can be certain that there is a higher purpose and a higher calling: to glorify God and enjoy him. Those who reject God have no higher purpose and no higher calling, for they will not glorify God and they will not enjoy him. But we can commit ourselves to glorifying him—praising him, worshiping him, proclaiming our confidence in him—even when our bodies, minds, and hearts are broken. And we can commit ourselves to enjoying him—loving him, maintaining a relationship with him, and finding pleasure in his promises—even when so much of what we love has been taken from us.
We can, we must, glorify him and enjoy him, for this gives purpose to our lives and this gives purpose to our sorrows. There is no circumstance that is ultimately purposeless for there is no circumstance outside our mandate to glorify our God and to enjoy him both now and forevermore.