One of the most troubling questions I get asked as a pastor is this: “Why do Christians suffer trials and tribulations?” Or, to put it another way, “Why is all this bad stuff happening to me? What did I do to deserve this?”
The easy answer is found in James 1:2-4 where it says:
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
But realizing that someday, somehow, in the sweet bye-and-bye, when all this pain and suffering and misery is over, you will become “perfect and complete” in Him often rings shallow while you are in the midst of the flames of your fiery trial. When people are suffering they need more than simple platitudes or mini-sermons or one verse, knee-jerk theology— they need truth. They need something to help them make sense of their impossible situation. They need something more than Romans 8:28. They need the long, detailed, answer to their question.
So, for those of you in the midst of trials you don’t understand and didn’t deserve, let me give you the long answer to your question.
Why Do Christians (You and Me) Suffer Trials and Tribulations?
1. To Bring God Glory
As strange as it may seen, sometimes we go through trials and hard times for no other reason than to bring God glory. Just think about what Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego had to endure for the glory of God. It was only through their trials, their fiery trials, that King Nebuchadnezzar and his subjects caught a glimpse of the Lord Jesus. And it may have been this very event that led to the king’s salvation and faith declaration:
For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, “What have You done?” (Daniel 4:34-35).
And one verse later the King said:
“Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down” (Daniel 4:37).
Remember, none of the glory given to God by Nebuchadnezzar would have happened unless Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego faced deadly trails for no fault of their own.
To read more about their trials, go to Daniel 3:8-30.
2. To Discipline and Chastise Us for Our Sins
That’s right, as uncomfortable as it makes us feel, sometimes God has to get our attention and discipline us, like we do our own children, when we sin and refuse to repent. Why does He do this? Because He is the perfect Father and He loves His children dearly, even more than we love our children.
Consider the following from Hebrews 12:5-11:
And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:
“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.”
If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Sometimes, when we wonder why God is allowing hard times to come our way, remember that “whom the Lord loves He chastens” just like we do to our own children. And be encouraged. After all, the Lord’s discipline means you are His child and that He loves you. That fact alone should put a light in our heart when all around us seems dark.
3. To Prevent Us From Sinning Again
This is kind of obvious. We discipline our children to keep them from doing wrong and the Lord does the same with us. When our children get spanked, or “suffer in the flesh” as Peter would say, they “cease from sin.” And the same is true for us as God’s children.
Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God (1 Peter 4:1-2).
4. To Keep Us From Pride
Pride is the first and foremost sin and the Lord hates pride (Prov. 8:13). That’s right, He hates it. Why? For one thing, Satan was cast out of heaven for pride (Isa. 14:12-15). Even someone like the Apostle Paul was prone to pride. So the Lord allowed him to suffer trials in order to keep him humble and to protect him from the encroaching sin of pride. It was God’s way of loving Paul, as strange as that may sound today. Read what Paul said about his suffering, his “thorn in the flesh”:
And lest I should be exalted above measure (pride) by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure (pride). Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
God’s answer to Paul’s prayer was, “No. What I have already given you is enough.” This is the Biblical cure for pride.
5. To Help Build Our Faith
Like precious metal, our faith grows stronger when it is tested in the fire. It’s during tough times, during sufferings and tribulations, that we see what we’re made of. Is our faith real? Are we truly committed to Him? Are we more than a fair weather disciple? Do we really believe what we tell others we believe? Yes, the genuineness of our faith becomes evident when we put it to the test. And trials help our tested faith grow stronger.
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6-7).
6. To Help Our Faith Grow
Much like the previous reason, sufferings and trials also help our faith grow, not just in strength, but in quality and number. When we persevere under tough times, we have more faith. And more faith is a good thing, by the way. Jesus said if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, which is about the size of a pin prick on our finger, we could do incredible, unbelievable things (Matt. 17:20). So more faith is a good thing, something to be greatly desired. And more faith comes from using the faith we have to faithfully endure under trials and pain and suffering. The more faith we use, the more faith God will give us. You know, “No pain, No gain.”
And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, (why) knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:3-5).
In this situation, more is definitely better.
7. To Teach Us Discipline and Obedience
Like a coach on a football team or a personal trainer in a gym, the key to success to those we are training is discipline and obedience. We are to run the plays exactly like the coach demands. If not, “Run it again!” When our personal trainer tells us how many reps and how many sets we must do to complete the workout, we have to have discipline and obedience to the plan in order to see the results. Again, “No pain, No gain.”
The Lord did the same for Paul at the outset of his ministry. He told him in advance about the trials and suffering he would endure. Why? To teach Paul discipline and obedience, to hang tough, to keep his eye on the goal, the prize (1 Cor. 1:9), the finish line (2 Tim. 4:7) even when everything in him screamed, “I quit!” Same is true with us. Which is why the Lord often allows us to suffer unjustly— to teach us the value of discipline and obedience.
But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he (Paul) is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him (Paul) how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16).
8. To Equip Us to Comfort Others
God never wastes an experience, either good or bad. Whatever He allows us to go through is something He will later use to help others going through the same thing. If you have lost a loved one, only you can truly say to someone suffering the same fate, “I know how you feel.” And that empathy and comfort can only come from the depths of your own pain and the comfort you have received from Him. This is why, for the comfort of others, the Lord allows His children to suffer loss and pain and rejection. Because it is only through that suffering the comfort of the Lord can be shared with others.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, (why) that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
Remember, your scars allow you to minister to those with open wounds.
9. To Prove Jesus is Still Enough
Untested faith is just talk. We can’t say, “Jesus is all you need” unless we’ve been to the place where He is all you have. Only then can we confidently proclaim, like the Apostle Paul, “our momentary light affliction is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 7:11). Only then can we offer comfort to others by boldly saying, like Corrie ten Boom, “There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.”
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
So then death is working in us, but life in you.
And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed and therefore I spoke,” we also believe and therefore speak, knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:7-11).
Imagine what it would be like to have the faith to refer to all your sufferings and pain as “light affliction” when compared to the eternal glory awaiting us. Now that’s living in the realm of heaven.
10. As a Testimony to the Angels
This has to be one of the strangest reasons the Lord allows us to go through trials. It’s like He uses our faith in Him, especially during dark times, to stick it in the face of the angels who rebelled and rejected the sovereign love of God. After all, it was God who brought Job to the attention of Satan. He was saying, in effect, “Satan, you blew it big time. Just look at Job. How I have blessed Job I would have also blessed you. But, you had other plans, didn’t you? Ah, your loss, loser.”
Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?” (Job 1:8).
And this is not limited to the Old Testament. In Ephesians Paul let’s us know that the grace of God given freely to fallen man, the “unsearchable riches of Christ” are being made known, literally stuck in the face of, the demonic realm. God is using us as His trophies of grace to shame those fallen angels who went their own way.
To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him (Ephesians 3:8-11).
In summary, we go full circle back to the beginning, back to the easy answer. We know why God has allowed His children, His chosen, to suffer, for a while, hardship and pain. But how are we to act? How are we to respond to others in the midst of our dark times? We are to know that the trials and tribulations we are currently experiencing are producing in us something only trials can produce. And that our Father, the Sovereign God, is doing this for us to make us perfect and complete in His sight (James 1:2-4).
We should praise Him for our current trials and joyfully embrace the next one.
After all, “No pain, No gain.”