Suffering, loss, grief, and death are all part of this fallen world. No one is immune; believers and non-believers alike endure them. If we’re honest, Bible verses about suffering and trials are not the ones we want to embrace.
It is human nature to avoid pain or discomfort, or even the mention of it. But the Bible has a lot to say on the topic of suffering and how God works through it to teach us vital lessons.
Insights to suffering
Last year I experienced a tough lesson in suffering firsthand when my family faced the hardest season of our lives.
In April 2019, my husband and I endured a third miscarriage. A couple of months later, my beloved mother became severely sick, and our lives came to a complete stop. She was diagnosed with a bacterial infection and was placed in a medically induced coma for almost five weeks. Initially, the doctors offered hope, but as the weeks passed, her condition worsened. “How? Why?” we asked over and over.
While at the hospital, I found myself meditating on many verses that talked about trials, like these: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2, 3). I humbly and honestly asked God, “How can I count it all joy when my mother is dying?” I wrestled with these verses and would learn more about them later.
In the meantime, I saw that God’s Word is not silent about various trials in life. Suffering can be caused by our own doing, and it can simply result from a fallen world. Some suffering, like Job’s, is allowed for testing. On desiringGod.org, author Tony Reinke quotes Tim Keller’s words from Walking with God through Pain and Suffering:
Some suffering is given in order to chastise and correct a person for wrongful patterns of life (as in the case of Jonah imperiled by the storm), some suffering is given “not to correct past wrongs but to prevent future ones” (as in the case of Joseph sold into slavery), and some suffering has no purpose other than to lead a person to love God more ardently for himself alone and so discover the ultimate peace and freedom.
The apostle Paul is a good example of someone who experienced much pain, loss, and suffering for a greater purpose. Philippians 3 is filled with truths regarding this — lessons my dad, sister, and I discovered in the darkest of valleys.
Dependence on God
Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord . . . for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:1, 3).
As the doctors exhausted all treatments for my mother, to no avail, we felt helpless and desperate knowing we could do nothing physically for her. We knew it would take a miracle for her to survive and be restored. So we continued to draw near to God. We rallied our church family, prayed, fasted, and interceded for our mother with thanksgiving and supplications before the Lord day and night.
I learned that when we’re facing a hard trial, we see things more clearly. When devastating news hits, we feel powerless, knowing that apart from God, we can do absolutely nothing in our flesh to change the outcome. These crossroads moments are the perfect opportunity to fix our eyes completely on a sovereign, all-powerful God.
I also learned that pain brings opportunity for perspective. Our vision is refocused, and we simply let go of everything in order to completely hold on to God, even when we feel as though we are drowning. He is teaching us full dependence on Him, at all times. How can you ever know Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have?
More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord . . . that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death (Philippians 3:8, 10).
Through my experience, I saw that the main purpose behind our trials, suffering, grief, and disappointment is to “know Him.” Christ, our perfect example, was a man of many sorrows and acquainted with grief, and He suffered a gruesome death for us (Isaiah 53:3). So how can we know Him fully and experience His power?
John Piper offers an observation in his devotional “The Seminary of Suffering”:
I have never heard anyone say, “The really deep lessons of life have come in times of ease and comfort.” But I have heard strong saints say, “Every significant advance I have ever made in grasping the depths of God’s love and growing deep with him has come through suffering.”
I saw that in our trials, we intimately know Christ and the truth of His Word like never before. This knowledge can come only through suffering. Christ partook of the cup, and so must we. The question is, can we trust in God even when He chooses not to let this cup pass from us?
Oh, how we all prayed, with supplications before God on behalf of our mother. We were desperate. I was pleading like the woman waiting for a crumb of bread to fall from the Master’s table, or the woman pushing through the crowd and longing to touch the hem of His garment. I was on my knees begging, “Lord, have mercy!”
Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14).
Our story did not end the way we had hoped. After almost six weeks in the hospital, my mother went to be with the Lord. Our pain at times felt unbearable. On the day of her funeral our family was weak, our hearts broken in pieces. How could we possibly get through the day?
We gathered at my dad’s house to read Scripture. In our hour of great need we prayed for God’s strength, and He faithfully supplied it. He comforted us and walked with us through the hard days ahead, and He tenderly continues to do so. We had a choice: Become bitter and angry at God for allowing our mother to die, or press on and continue and trust in His perfect sovereignty.
Some lessons took me a while to learn. Remember when I asked God about what it meant to “Consider it all joy”? In His grace, He eventually taught me that, in the midst of our pain and loss, we had His promise — the promise of Mother’s salvation, the promise of the coming resurrection. Even through tears, my heart feels joy because I know that on that great day I will see her again — and my three babies.
The importance of sharing the gospel also became clear to me. Though I rejoice in God’s promises, the sad reality is, not everyone has that joyful assurance of eternal life. Oh, that we may see the urgency of sharing with a perishing world the hope found only in Jesus Christ! How can we not? I still don’t understand fully why my mother and three babies died. But one thing that has given me strength to go on is the hope and glory that lie ahead:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Romans 8:18).
After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you (1 Peter 5:10).
In our pain, sickness, and trials, may we learn from Christ, allowing God to conform us to the image of our Lord and Savior who suffered for us.
In loving memory of my beloved mother, Margarita Lopez — until that great day.