Truth for Suffering
Suffering is a hallmark of this rebellious world, from which the Church is not exempt. Every believer is either preparing for future tribulation or presently enduring it. Thankfully, God has promised to use trials as a providential means of grace. In particular, God designed suffering to help His people receive the full benefit of His truth. As Martin Luther, with his typical gusto, claimed, “Were it not for tribulation I should not understand the Scriptures.” Luther understood that the Lord uses trials to deepen our faith in Scripture and cement His truth in our hearts. Each trial is an opportunity for us to see God’s promises leap off the pages of Scripture, and every tribulation is an occasion for God to prove His Word in our lives.
Jerry Bridges, who knew suffering intimately during his life, also knew its effect on his grasp of the truth:
It is not that we will learn from adversity something different from what we can learn from the Scriptures. Rather, adversity enhances the teaching of God’s Word and makes it more profitable to us. In some instances it clarifies our understanding or causes us to see truths we had passed over before. At other times, it will transform “head knowledge” into “heart knowledge” as theological theory becomes a reality to us.
Through suffering, our faith in the truth is refined and steeled for sanctification.
At the same time, the truth plays an indispensable role in in our perseverance. God’s Word is designed to anchor our souls in the midst of suffering and draw our focus back to him in the midst circumstantial pain. In particular, the truth empowers our endurance in at least eight specific ways.
1. Truth cuts through our limited perspectives in suffering.
Truth provides an eternal perspective to counter our temporal perspective. It allows us to step back from our suffering and see the larger reality of God’s unfolding plan in this world. Were it not for the perspective of God’s truth Joseph would have had no basis for forgiving his brothers, and we would be limited by our own finite, worldly, and self-centered focus of what is happening to us.
2. Truth cuts through our heightened emotions in suffering.
Truth provides objectivity when our subjective emotions are running wild. Pain rarely leads to objective reasoning, and this is especially true in the midst of our various trials. When life hurts the most our emotions are the most powerful. Unless those raging impulses are submitted to the truth they will lead us into despair.
3. Truth cuts through our anxious thoughts in suffering.
Truth provides stability for our inner-man no matter how unstable our circumstances become. The mere threat of suffering tempts us to sinful anxiety and distrust of God. If we did not possess the promises of God we would have no rest from the troubles of this world.
4. Truth cuts through our worldly solutions in suffering.
Truth provides wisdom from above that guards us from the dangers of earthly wisdom. The first question we usually ask in the midst of suffering is, “What am I going to do?” The Bible will not tell us how to escape our trials, but it does show us how to pursue holiness in the midst of them. The truth guides us so that we can navigate tribulation with a clear conscience and an increased holiness.
5. Truth provides content from God for our faith.
Truth shepherds our hearts toward faith when we need it the most. The greatest danger in this world is not suffering, it is defective faith. When we are suffering our most pressing need isn’t immediate escape, it is enduring faith. The Bible is what informs and increases the faith we need in trials.
6. Truth provides clarity from God for our situation.
Truth provides us with discernment about our situation and our souls. One of the most significant burdens in the midst of a trial is always a lack of clarity. We don’t know why it is happening to us, or why it is so difficult for us to endure. Scripture reminds us in specific ways that we are enduring suffering for our sanctification and exposes the deficiency in our maturity that contribute to the deficiencies in our response.
7. Truth provides authority from God for our actions.
Truth shepherds our hearts toward obedience in the midst of suffering. How many times have we exclaimed, “I wish someone would just tell me what to do!” Well, God did. He recorded authoritative instructions to guide our actions in the midst of suffering. As a result, when we allow the authority of God’s truth to shepherd our hearts in suffering we may not understand our circumstance, or why we are suffering, but we can know Who is in control. To the unbelieving heart reminders of God’s sovereign authority would be virtually unbearable. But to the regenerate heart—which knows how Good, Holy, Loving, and Trustworthy God is—divine truth is the source of immense comfort.
8. Truth provides protection from God for our soul.
Truth is the primary instrument God uses to secure our souls and protect us from apostasy. Satan would love nothing more than to invalidate God’s promises by stealing one of God’s children. Just like with Job, God protects us from falling away in suffering by opening our eyes to His truth (Job 42:4).
God gave us truth for suffering and suffering for truth. Together God is using these means of grace for our good and His glory:
And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:27–28).
Paul Shirley is a graduate of The Expositors Seminary and has served as the pastor of Grace Community Church in Wilmington, Delaware since 2011.