Suffering is a universal experience and the natural human longing is to avoid it completely or that it may at least pass quickly without too much upset. Even as Christians, we look forward to the day when suffering will be no more, but until then we are able to have a different perspective than the rest of the world. We have all been reminded at some hard time in our life that God causes all things, suffering included, to work together for good (Romans 8:28). This Biblical principle is often not easy to see in the midst of suffering though and thus isn’t always immediate encouragement.
My dad died from cancer when I was nineteen, and I initially found comfort knowing that this was not outside of God’s plan and that he was going to use this for much good. I sincerely believed God allowed his death to draw people to the Jesus he lived for and so often spoke about. But weeks, months, and years passed and what I’ve seen most is loneliness, pain, rebellion, anger, financial trouble, and broken family relationships—not at all the comforting good I was expecting. Over the years, I haven’t so much shed tears that my dad is gone, but that his leaving seems wasted.
We don’t get to know everything God does. God’s word is trustworthy and thus all bad things, including death, are within the sovereignty of God; and yes, he truly is working through them for good. But couldn’t he be a little more transparent about it? Couldn’t God give me just a crumb to satisfy that longing to be sure that this death and hurt we are still healing from was for a good purpose? It’s been ten years since that day, but God continues to be faithful in leading me to peace and to see things more like he does. In the midst of suffering, we can so quickly become narrow-minded, misunderstand the words of God, and fail to trust him to be faithful to his promises. This can only lead to impatience and frustration.
Carefully read God’s words again in Romans 8:28. Are we really seeing them for what they are, or are we subtly adding our own expectations? The verse says, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Did you notice God does not give a timeline? This is not a guarantee that the good that is to come from bad things will be instant, or soon, or even in our lifetime! The work God is causing is a process, happening now, currently, continually; it does not imply a one and done event in which the good has been accomplished. God is bigger than that! Hebrews 11:13, referring to Old Testament heroes, says “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar…” Adam, Noah, Abraham, Sarah… they all died before seeing the fulfillment of God’s promises! I haven’t wanted to accept this. I want to see the good now. I don’t want to wait or think that I may never see the purpose I was hoping would come out of suffering. But God calls us to be patient. His timing is always better, even though it may sometimes seem dreadfully slow to us.
Paul says in Romans 12:12 to “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” We don’t have to give up hope that good will never come from our suffering. We should constantly cry out to God that His good kingdom would come quickly. All the while, we can find joy in knowing that our hope for good is well-founded and one day will come to fruition. That joy in itself is obvious good coming from suffering, and as we learn to transition from impatient longing to patient trust in the purposes of God, our eyes will start to see the less obvious. God is so good and he is actively working for far more good in the here and now than we could ever begin to imagine!