Trials start on page three of my Bible.
On that page, the Serpent approaches Eve with the temptation to rebel against God, and in that moment, she and her faith are on trial. And because she and Adam chose to disobey, suffering enters their lives on page four. Pain in childbirth, conflict in marriage and disunity rooted in contention about marital roles, and sweat and hard work are all forms of suffering that are the result of the fall of man into sin. Before sin, there was no suffering and there were no tribulations (the word Paul uses in Romans 5:3 to indicate the kinds of pressures that every follower of God faces).
As if that wasn’t enough bad news, the trials don’t leave until the next to last page of the Bible in Revelation 21. Virtually every page between page 3 and page 1747 tell some story of suffering and tribulation and trouble. And from that we learn that trials are normative. We think they are unusual. They are not. That’s why Peter says, “Beloved [note the tenderness that he uses to address his readers with a difficult truth], do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as thought some strange thing were happening to you” (1 Pt. 4:12). Suffering, trials, trouble, difficulty, burdens, weights, pressures — whatever word one uses to describe the afflictions believers face — they are all normal.
And Paul says they are normal in Romans 5 so that four results are produced in the life of the believer:
- that we might persevere
- that we might develop proven character
- that we might experience hope
- that we might know the overflowing love of God
Without trouble in life, we will not know those realities. We won’t be strong and endure, our character will remain weak, our hope will tend towards hopelessness, and we won’t know the power and volume of God’s love. We need trouble and trial. It is to our benefit when we have troubles. (And I am aware of the weight of those last two short sentences; like you, my natural inclination is not to believe or like them.)
So trials are to our benefit. In what way are they beneficial? What is produced in us through our tribulations? Scripture affirms a relatively long list of benefits. Consider just these few results of tribulations (in addition to the list above, given by Paul in Romans 5:3-5).
- Suffering produces endurance and completeness (maturity) (James 1:2-4)
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
- Suffering kills pride (2 Cor. 12:1-7)
Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me — to keep me from exalting myself! (2 Cor 12:7)
- Suffering reveals and demonstrates the sufficient power of Christ to the sufferer (2 Cor. 12:8-10)
Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12:8–10)
- Suffering magnifies and exposes the glory of God (John 9, esp. v. 3)
As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. (John 9:1-3)
- Suffering equips the sufferer to comfort others (2 Cor. 1:3-5)
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 affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. (2 Cor 1:3–5)
- Suffering teaches dependence on Christ and mortifies self-exaltation (1 Cor. 1:8-9)
For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead… (2 Cor 1:8–9)
- Suffering well is a proof of faith (1 Pt. 1:3-9)
In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ… (1 Pet 1:6–7)
- Suffering makes us to emulate and become like Christ (1 Pt. 4:13)
…but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. (1 Pet 4:13–14)
- Suffering prepares us to receive the overwhelming glories of Heaven and to look at the eternal more than we look at the temporal (2 Cor. 4:17-18)
For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Cor 4:17–18)
Do we naturally choose suffering? No. But are there great benefits to suffering? Yes. And given the weight of the sufferings in comparison to the weight of the blessings we receive from the sufferings, both now and in eternity, we do well to not murmur and complain under the afflictions.