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God works out everything for the good of those who love Him. But in the midst of suffering, those words from Romans 8:28 can feel trite. God wants us not to repay evil for evil. The person that can achieve this will demonstrate that God is real (1 Peter 3:15). That’s because the ability to respond to evil with kindness can only come from God.
However, the right response doesn’t always mean continuing to allow someone to take advantage of you. There are times when it makes sense to move out of harm’s way and times when God calls us to suffer for His purposes.
Appropriate Suffering Advances God’s Kingdom
When God expects us to endure suffering, there is always a purpose with eternal consequences. Enduring hardship for the right reasons allows God’s purposes to come to fruition. Because of sin, we live in a world where doing the right thing often results in suffering:
- we don’t feel better and might even feel worse
- we don’t get what we want and might even feel miserable
- our immediate living (on this earth) might seem unproductive (by this world’s definition)
Jesus has an extremely difficult teaching for us. God’s kingdom is more important than any happiness or satisfaction you can derive from this life.
There are many different paths people can walk on in life. But there is only one kind of path that takes you to a desirable destination. It is the path of suffering and growth. This path is undesirable because it is difficult to walk. Choosing this path is counter-intuitive. It’s the right path, but it will feel wrong because it’s impossible to walk it without suffering.
The other paths appear much more desirable and are much easier to walk. In fact, there may even lead to a long period of ease and pleasure. But there is a catch: the journey is easy, but the destination is undesirable. What good is an easy path if it only takes you to an accursed destination?
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.Matthew 7:13-14 NIV
Needless Suffering Only Contributes to Evil
Hopefully, I have made the case that suffering is necessary and natural some of the time–when it is directly connected to keeping your faith in Jesus and your witness to Him.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.Matthew 5:11-12 NIV
But there are probably even more ways we all suffer needlessly. There is no reason to allow suffering to continue in any of the following circumstances.
- The suffering does not advance God’s purposes
- The adversity only harms or confuses the person being hurt (such as when a child is abused). The person does not have the capacity to endure the suffering without loss of personal integrity.
- Pure evil is causing the torment, so there is no way that tolerating it will soften a heart.
In any of these kinds of situations, do all that you can to prevent or stop the suffering. Don’t embrace pain if you don’t have to. God’s will is not to suffer needlessly. But it is God’s will that you walk the path that leads to life, which often involves some heartache to accomplish God’s kingdom work.
For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.1 Peter 3:17 NIV
Finally, remember that even though the right path has many difficulties and obstacles, it is still the only sane path (all other paths lead to destruction), and God guarantees that once you start on the path, you will reach the glorious destination (heaven).
The righteous person may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all;Psalm 34:19 NIV
Matt Pavlik is a licensed professional clinical counselor who wants to see each individual restored to their true identity. He has more than 20 years of experience counseling individuals and couples at his Christian counseling practice, New Reflections Counseling. Matt and Georgette have been married since 1999 and live with their four children in Centerville, Ohio.