Why do we suffer? Why is there so much tragedy, heartache, and pain in life? What on earth is there to gain from so much pain? These are questions everyone asks themselves at some point in their life.
But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. Genesis 3:4-7
This story is one most people are at least semi-familiar with. Something important that is embedded into this story is the origin of suffering. When God told Adam and Eve that they will “surely die” if they eat from the Tree of Life (Gen. 2:17), He did not mean they'd die an immediate death in the earthly sense that you and I know. Their innocence, peace, blissful ignorance would die and they would be introduced to sin and know suffering.
Satan, the serpent, knew this and tricked them in their innocence. He played on their curious human nature, led them into temptation, and now all of humankind knows sin and suffering.
Then the Lord God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—" therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. Genesis 3:22-24
We were never meant to have this knowledge of good and evil. We were created to live peacefully and innocently with God, trusting in Him to know what is best. As soon as the first sin occurred, human beings were forced to bear the weight of knowledge. With the knowledge of good and evil came sin, suffering, and eventual yet inevitable death. The death God warned of in Genesis, I believe, is both the human death we all eventually experience, but also the instant death of human innocence and blissful ignorance as soon as Adam and Eve ate from the tree. It is a death of purity and peace as they entered into a world of sin and suffering. The good news is that God provided a way for His people to find and reside in that peace and purity again through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Growing up I had an incredibly tough life. I lived in a world of constant abuse, neglect, and loneliness. There were only a few points in my childhood that were stable, and even those times didn't last very long. When I was 11 my mother told me I was overweight and started me on weight loss pills. That was the beginning of a new kind of suffering in my life. Through that, I entered the steep slope of young alcoholism, pill addiction, and eating disorders which then transformed into the desire for positive attention from literally any place I could find. This lead me to situation after situation of being used, bullied and assaulted by my peers. I was officially hated and literally beaten down at home and school. I had no one. I was utterly alone and constantly suffering.
Eventually I attempted to end my life to stop the ceaseless suffering. After continuing to fail at something that in every earthly sense I absolutely should have succeeded at, it hit me…maybe there is a reason for me to be alive. Maybe all this pain means something. But what? Why?
'... for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. ' 1 Peter 1:6-7
I would continue to struggle for many years. As soon as I'd asked myself why I was still alive I, for the first time in my life, realized that there had to be something bigger than myself keeping me alive, and that it had to be for some purpose.
In all the suffering I have endured I began to learn that it was making me stronger. My suffering began to clearly lead me to God, as He was the only “thing” that could possibly help me through all the pain.
'For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, ' 1 Peter 3:18
The point of suffering is to develop and strengthen our faith. It is to make us stronger, more faithful, and less fearful of earthly things. When we suffer, we learn to depend on Christ to see us through.
'And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. ' 1 Peter 5:10
There is hope to be had through the suffering. It is not forever. As we go through our trials, we are refined, like a rough gold nugget being melted down, purified, polished and shined into a valuable, beautiful gold ingot. God will strengthen and restore us. It is inevitable that we will all suffer to some degree in our lives, but it’s also inevitable that through it all God will do wonders in His faithful children and bring us out shining like gold in His presence.
What does God hope to accomplish through our suffering?
When I took the huge leap of faith, putting away my extremely painful, sinful way of living and decided to live for God it changed everything about myself - or at least, the “me” I had become while conforming to what society wanted me to be. It was incredibly strange, too. It was an immediate change, which felt extremely natural, not forced at all, and it literally just happened. I began to speak, dress, walk, and eat differently. I began to treat people differently. I went from extremely pessimistic and dramatic to finding impossible peace I never knew existed. I changed from an extremely boisterous, complaintive person to a peaceful, confident, fearless woman. God literally transformed my heart and my mind as soon as I gave my life to Him in full trust, but I got to that point through an incredible amount of suffering. Had I not suffered all that I had, I would not have become the person I have become. I would not know this impossible peace and undying faith.
'Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. ' 1 Peter 3:3-4
God gives us very specific qualities He wants us to exhibit. When we are enduring great suffering, he is buffing out the sinful qualities and bringing the righteous qualities to the surface.
'Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. ' 1 Peter 3:8-11
When we endure our suffering, allowing God to work on us, transform us, and heal us we are made new. We are utterly transformed and we may receive God’s blessings through our suffering and obedience.