Why do we go through pain and trials? We often think that as Christians, we must have “Joy, joy, joy, joy down in our heart,” as the song goes, or else something is terribly amiss.
Not so. All that is gold does not always glitter. We lose loved ones to death, sin, cancer, accidents, rebellion. We sometimes find ourselves afflicted with maladies and trials that we can’t find the source of. It just seems to happen to us.
Why? The obvious and first point often mentioned is the Fall. Adam and Eve were put in the garden of Eden to tend it, care for it, cultivate it. If they succeeded, they would be given more. But Adam rebelled and fell, and mankind was unceremoniously given the boot from the Garden of God. Sin entered the world, and death and corruption by sin.
I can’t claim to have solved the problem of pain. But I have learned at least two additional reasons why the Lord sends us trials.
St. James writes,
My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. (James 1:2-4)
We are unfinished products – not complete, not matured. The Lord sees areas in our lives that need fleshing out, filling out, completion – and He crafts specific challenges and trials to mature us in those areas.
We’re to be excited about this, ultimately. James says we’re to “count it all joy” when these things happen, because we know that the Lord cares about us enough to continue working on us. He hasn’t given up on us. He still loves us. The tough trials and tribulations are proofs.
Trials are nothing more than tests of consistency. We say we trust God’s plans, but do we? We say we love the Lord, but do we?
On occasion, corporations will hire groups of developers to test their security. These developers will attempt to hack into the corporation’s computers, system, or otherwise secure data, and take notes on exactly where they found weaknesses. Then, the original corporation will patch those weak spots up into a stronger, more consistent defense.
This is like us. Our Lord loves us and tests us at different points to strengthen us in our walk for Him and for His glory, and our testimony before the world.
But there’s another reason.
St. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, writes,
Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation.
But what does this mean?
Simply, this means that God tests us for the sake of other people.
God sends us trials and challenges to test us and prove us, but also so we will learn how to handle those challenges and then teach others. We find ourselves in a hole, providentially; God provides for us a ladder, and we figure out how to climb out of the hole. Then, we teach others how to climb out of their holes.
“The God of all comfort” “comforteth us in all our tribulation” so that “we may be able to comfort” others” with “the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.”
We can’t be dead-ends to comfort.
My wife was abused by her father for eighteen years. God brought her out of that darkness, and now, she has a ministry of learning from her experience, and comforting and helping others who have been abused.
I have another friend who was the attempted victim of sexual abuse by an international missionary. In her journey, she encountered more than fifty churches, ministries, and Christian counseling groups – and was rebuffed a total of 131 times. She read 121 books on the subject. She was rejected time and time again by the church – by the very people who were to bring Christ’s redemption to others! She now has learned from her experience, and is in the process of comforting and helping others who have been abused not only by evil men, but by “the church” as well.
A single loaf of bread, in its whole form, cannot be eaten at one time by fifty or sixty people around a table, or in a Communion service. It must be broken. It must be torn, and it must be divided so that it can nourish others and pass on the nutrition to those who consume it.
We too are broken bread. Our Lord crafts us, grinds us, lets us rise with the leaven of His Spirit, bakes us in the fires of His challenges – but then does not set us in the pantry to grow moldy, or put us on the table simply for decoration. He tears us for the sake of His church, the sake of His body, the nutrition of those around us.
There is nothing mystical or magical about suffering. There is nothing noble in throwing away all of your possessions and living a life of abject poverty, in itself. There is no atoning power in afflicting your body. The point to it all must be ethical – bringing redemption and comfort to the wounded around us by introducing them to our Savior, the Lord of comfort and the Prince of Peace.
We must realize that God takes us through these situations for His glory, and for our good, and for the good of others. We must view ourselves as bread, broken for others. We “break” ourselves by studying God’s Word, embracing God’s Providence in our own lives, and then by consciously processing it all to help and serve and comfort others and give them a hand out of their challenges “by the comfort wherewith we ourselves were comforted of God.”
We become means of grace.
And we end where we started: the Garden of God. Christ, the Last Adam, did not fall. He overcame all temptations and conquered death. In making all things new, He came to earth – was incarnated. Enfleshed. He became the Son of Dust and yet was the Son of God at the same time. Through His life, death, resurrection, and ascension, He proclaimed, as Abraham Kuyper stated so well, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
“He comes to make his blessings flow – far as the curse is found,” Watts wrote; and so the light of Christ spreads heart by heart, life by life, job by job, home by home, pain by pain, trial by trial, invincible yet limping, crawling, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to every nook of life.
And He gives us a part in that. The master Gardener gives us a spade and a seed in the form of a trial and says, “Get to work. I will be with you always.” As Adam and Eve were created in Eden, we in Christ are in the New Eden. We garden and grow with God. We take the seeds of trial and tribulation He sends, plant them, water them, learn from them, and bear fruit that we may feed and nourish and minister to others. We are broken bread.