By the very definition of the word suffering, it is hard to see how it can be a good thing. It is defined as "the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship." None of those words sound like a "good thing." So how can suffering possibly be a good thing?
1) Suffering leads to glory. If we share in Christ's suffering, we also share in his glory. (Romans 8:17) The Message says it this way:
And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!
It's one thing to want to "Be like Jesus" in the good times, but sharing in his suffering helps us to identify with Him. And good things come out of the times when we can relate to the life of Christ, and understand a little bit about how it felt to be Him. Plus there is a reward for us sharing in his suffering -- we get to share in his glory. We get to go through the good times with him!
2) Suffering leads to hope. If you have read my blog for any amount of time, you know that "hope cycle" seen in Romans Chapter 5 describes the lives of people who parent kids from hard places.
Suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope ... and hope does not disappoint
Oh how much we all long to have character and hope! Sometimes we pray that God will build our character. But we really aren't interested in the first part of that -- the suffering and perseverance part. Yet without them, we can't get to the kind of hope that does not disappoint.
3. Suffering leads to learning. Even though I don't agree with Job's friends' theology, there is a verse in chapter 36 that says:
But those who learn from their suffering, God delivers from their suffering.
I don't think this is true in a simple fashion. In other words, I don't believe that God says, "ooh, look, they learned something. I'm taking away whatever is making them suffer." But I do think that as we begin to learn from our suffering, our suffering lessens because we allow it to become our teacher. And we are delivered from our suffering, not from the circumstances that are causing us to suffer. Wow. That's pretty deep for 7 a.m.
4. Suffering leads to perfection, completion and lacking nothing. In James 1 we read this:
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
When our faith is tested and we respond with patience to our suffering it leads to good things.
I'm not asking you to seek suffering (although when I used to recruit foster and adoptive parents I used to suggest that I was inviting them to begin the hope cycle). But whether you seek it or not, it is going to come your way.
It's my prayer that we can all recognize while we are suffering that there is a purpose, that it leads to glory, hope, learning, and perfection. Maybe it's a good thing after all.