We can be confident that God has important purposes for our suffering, and we can be equally confident that one of these purposes is simply for us to stand strong, to continue to profess our allegiance to him. If Paul could say that his imprisonment “has really served to advance the gospel,” why shouldn’t we say the same of our bereavements (Philippians 1:12)?
There is a deep mystery to suffering. While the Bible makes it plain that we must expect to encounter times of sorrow and loss, of trial and grief, we often don’t know why these times come. Though we know he is weaving together a marvelous tapestry that will wondrously display his glory, we also know it is one whose beauty we will fully appreciate only when faith becomes sight.
It was in the waning weeks of 2020 that my family faced our darkest hour, for it was then that the heart of my 20-year-old son Nick suddenly and unexpectedly stopped, and he went to be with the Lord. One moment he was a seminarian leading some fellow students in a game, and the next he was in heaven. His departure shocked us, devastated us, and left us wondering why. Why would God choose this for us, and why would God choose us for this?
In the aftermath of that dreadful evening, I turned to some of my dearest friends, friends who lived and died many years ago, but whom I’ve come to know through the books and sermons they left behind. If a multitude of advisers is necessary for planning well, how much more for grieving well (Proverbs 15:22)? In the most difficult days and darkest hours, they counseled and consoled me.
Suffering as Witness
Theodore Cuyler was a close and steady companion who encouraged me to accept that God always places bright blessings behind the dark clouds of his providence. F.B. Meyer assured me that peace would come through submission to God’s will, and that I should trust him in the taking as much as I had in the giving. But it was in the words of the old preacher J.R. Miller that I found one piece of wisdom that especially helped quiet my heart and direct my path.
Ofttimes the primary reason why godly men are called to suffer is for the sake of witness they may give to the sincerity of their love for Christ and the reality of divine grace in them. The world sneers at religious profession. It refuses to believe that it is genuine. It defiantly asserts that what is called Christian principle is only selfishness, and that it would not stand severe testing. Then, godly men are called to endure loss, suffering or sorrow, not because there is any particular evil in themselves which needs to be eradicated, but because the Master needs their witness to answer the sneers of the world. (“The Ministry of Comfort”)
In every age, we hear of professed believers who abandon the faith as soon as they are called to suffer. They are glad enough to express confidence in God as long as his will seems perfectly aligned with their own, as long as his providence decrees what they would choose anyway. But when they are called to lose instead of gain, to weep instead of laugh, to face poverty instead of prosperity, they quickly turn aside and fall away (Matthew 13:20–21). Like towers built on sand, many who stand strong in days of calm collapse in days of flood (Matthew 7:26–27).