After I thought we did everything right, witnessing the disappointment on my wife's face when we missed our flight drove me crazy. I tried fighting my frustration by remembering passages like Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Yet the knowledge that “it happened for a reason” warred with my incessant, sinful need to be in control. In the grand scheme of suffering, this was a minor moment, but as wave after wave of anger mounted at not knowing the specific reason for this moment of suffering, vile words and phrases spewed out of my mouth so fluently that I was almost unrecognizable to my wife. In my frustration, what I had failed to realize was that the reason for my suffering was my sanctification.
Everyone Is Suffering
Everybody experiences suffering in various ways at different times. Some experience loss of loved ones, finances, security and health. Others experience inconveniences like flat tires, dead batteries, lost items or missed flights.
Understanding suffering as a means for our sanctification places our present realities and eternal hopes in proper perspective.
Suffering—in these big and small ways—is a part of life because, ever since Genesis 3, sin remains present in the world. It is commonly said that if we’re not currently suffering, we either just recovered or are about to go through it.
Suffering For Whose Glory?
When Christians experience suffering, we latch on to the reality that God is orchestrating all things for His glory and for our good. However, we sometimes over-prioritize or misconstrue the “our good” portion of that statement with self-centered thinking.
“Maybe God let us miss that plane because it was going to be a rough flight, or maybe it was going to crash. Maybe we're going to get bumped up to first class tomorrow.”
While these things are possible, by focusing solely on our “good” that may come from our suffering, we are placing ourselves at the center of glory instead of God. But the good we get from God “working all things together” is sanctification: God’s lifelong process of making us more holy, more like Himself. It is His glory that is our good.
God Is Willing to See You Suffer
The process of sanctification is a continual cleansing and washing away of everything in our lives that is not like God. This is often uncomfortable, like using an abrasive sponge to scrub dirt from our skin. Sometimes it’s even painful, akin to scrubbing old skin off of a badly burned part of the body.
Sanctification is painful because it is surgical; God removes parts of our lives that we have unknowingly lived with for years.
God is willing to see us suffer for periods of time for the whole of our souls to be well.
It reminds me of an impacted wisdom tooth I had removed. Though it was beneath the surface and I felt no pain, it was moving toward the root of my other teeth, potentially infecting my whole mouth. My doctor had to cut my gums and put me through a period of pain so that the whole of my mouth could be well.
God is willing to see us suffer for periods of time for the whole of our souls to be well. Though He does not delight in our suffering or cause our suffering because he does no evil, He delights in what that suffering will produce (Rom. 5:3-5).
God’s Glory, Our Good
Understanding suffering as a means for our sanctification places our present realities and eternal hopes in proper perspective. When we know we are being sanctified to be readied for Christ’s return and to be with God and loved ones forever, we can suffer well.
Sanctification is God’s promise that we will someday see Him. Seeing Him and forever being in His presence is one of His greatest gifts to us (Ps. 16:11; 31:19-20). But we cannot see Him if we are not born again and being made holy like Him (John 3:3; Heb. 12:14).
So God is gracious to sanctify us. In His grace, He displays His desire for us. And in our sanctification, He is transforming us to desire, be with and honor Him forever. God is indeed “working all things together” for His glory and our good. If we keep our focus on Him, our suffering will lead to our sanctification.