As Latter-day Saints, we may have seen suffering as evidence of God’s disapproval. But for a Christian, suffering is actually evidence that God is invested in and working in our lives.
Many see suffering as evidence of God’s displeasure.
One common LDS understanding of suffering is that what we suffer in this life is related to how valiant we were in the pre-existence. Those who were less loyal and courageous for God may be born in more difficult life circumstances in this life. Another common thought is that suffering is a result of God’s displeasure. Hardships are the result of our unfaithfulness. If we were more righteous or worthy, we wouldn’t be punished by God.
[Related: When God Is Confusing (Psalm 73)]
Suffering is a privilege.
Most of us think of suffering as something to be avoided at all costs. That’s not how the Bible sees it.
Philippians 1:29 For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him.
It’s not hard to see trusting in Christ as a privilege God has allowed us to experience. It’s much harder to see suffering as a privilege or a gift from God.
Suffering purifies our hearts.
Many people – Mormons and non-Mormons alike – have a “linear theology”. The expectation is that if we do A and B, then God will do C. When God doesn’t come through with the results we expect, we are disappointed with him. Too often we want the blessing, but not the Blesser. But in times of suffering, we aren’t likely to experience the blessings we want. So suffering has a way of revealing what is really in our hearts. It exposes our “second loves” – the people or things we look to ahead of God. Even if we don’t consciously identify them as “second loves”, they are revealed by what we look to for comfort, security, significance, or power. As we learn to become detached from these inferior objects of our love, our love for God can be purified. In suffering, we can’t make life work the way we want it to, so we have the opportunity to learn dependence on God.
Suffering draws us nearer to God.
In suffering, God has a way of carving out our souls, to remove those “second loves” and their influence. If we are willing to wait on him and trust in him – and not try to fill the empty space within us with substitutes for God – then he can fill us more and more with his own presence. We can then experience the depths of his love for us.
When things are hard, we often assume that it proves God is against us. In fact, hard times show that God is ultimately for us. He wants to free us from our attachment to lesser things, and to draw us more deeply into his love.