“It’s never God’s will for his children to suffer.”
I hear that statement frequently from both Christians and non-Christians as they interpret the character of God. Why would a loving God not want his children to be happy?
I understand that reasoning. I too want to be happy. I don’t want my close relationships destroyed. Or my health ruined. Or my livelihood taken away.
Yet in the manifold wisdom of God, as I look at Scripture, I see clearly how God uses suffering for our good. And for our eternal joy. Which is far deeper than any fleeting happiness.
Isaiah 30 speaks beautifully to how God uses suffering, regardless of how it comes. Speaking to the Israelites, who have been disciplined for their disobedience, Isaiah says,
He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. Then you will defile your carved idols overlaid with silver and your gold-plated metal images. You will scatter them as unclean things. You will say to them, “Be gone!” (Isaiah 30:19–22)
God may give us the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, but with them come extraordinary promises. Assurance that he hears and answers our prayers, the ability to see him and sense his presence, clear direction for our decisions, power to destroy sin and strongholds — these are staggering gifts.
God Hears and Answers
When we are suffering, we can be confident that God hears our desperate pleas. The Maker of heaven and earth is listening attentively, waiting for us to call out to him. It doesn’t need to be an eloquent prayer. Just a sincere cry for help.
And as soon as the Lord hears our cry, he answers us. Immediately. He responds as soon as our plea for mercy goes out.
But honestly, in the midst of suffering, I have often felt the opposite. I have felt that God was ignoring my cries because my situation wasn’t changing. As I was begging God for deliverance, things were getting worse. But God has gently reminded me that his answers can be “yes,” “no,” or “wait.” And though I may not understand it, I know that God will always give me what is best for me, when it is best for me.
He Gives Us Himself
God uniquely gives us his presence in suffering. The Lord, our Teacher, doesn’t hide himself anymore. Even though God never leaves us, we are often unaware of his presence. We may go about our day-to-day life, oblivious to the fact that God goes with us. But in suffering, God’s presence is unmistakable. It is as though he removes the veil that hides his face from us, and we find ourselves in the very throne room of God.
For me, this is an uncommon feeling. While I know that God is always with me, I rarely experience God’s presence in an unmistakable, spectacular way. I have felt close to him while reading Scripture, praying, sitting in silence, and praising God in community, yet there is something special about his unveiled presence in suffering.
I will never forget those supernatural encounters with God. The joy I felt in those moments, moments that were surrounded by excruciating circumstances, is still vivid. Those times are anchors for me, for whenever God seems vague and distant, I remember how he revived my soul in my deepest suffering.
God Gives Us Clear Direction
Years ago I was walking through another dark valley. Physical and emotional pain overwhelmed me, making it hard to even think or process. But at the same time, pain strangely made me more attentive to God’s voice. I could ignore the noise around me and focus on what God was saying.
God was gracious as I leaned on him in ways I never had before. I asked for advice, and God gave it. He directed my steps as I walked. Through fellow believers, through circumstances, through prayer, but mostly through reading his word, I learned to recognize his ways. And his voice. I just had to listen.
Listening for me requires reading the Bible, since that is where I hear God most often. It is through Scripture that God spoke most clearly as he comforted me, convicted me, and guided me. He used passages that felt loved and familiar, as well as those that had once seemed dry and boring. As I read them, he breathed life into the words, bringing fresh insight, wisdom, and direction.
God Helps Us Destroy Our Idols
Lastly, Isaiah 30 shows us that suffering helps us destroy our idols. While I don’t worship carved idols, I have taken idols into my heart (Ezekiel 14:3), which can be even more dangerous. I have worshiped approval, respect, success, and having a perfect family. I thought they would make me happy. But when they were taken away, the power of those idols diminished.
All of my suffering has involved loss. Loss of things I valued. Loss of what I loved. Often they were good things, sometimes wonderful things, but none of them were as good as God himself. And so even though I grieved their loss, I saw how God could give me joy without them. Because my joy became rooted in him.
While I wouldn’t choose adversity, it has been an unparalleled gift in my life. Has it been hard? Yes. But has it been worth it? Absolutely.
I can honestly echo Joni Eareckson Tada’s words, “I wouldn’t trade places with anybody in this world to be this close to Jesus.”
Twenty-one surgeries by age thirteen. Multiple miscarriages as a young wife. The death of a child. A debilitating progressive disease. Riveting pain. Abandonment. Unwanted divorce.
In her book, Vaneetha invites other sufferers to taste with her the goodness of a sovereign God who will carry us in our darkest of days.