Many years ago, a wise counselor told me, “God doesn’t waste good suffering.” Strange statement, right? How can suffering be described as good? Over the years I have become convinced through many interactions with suffering people that there is indeed such a thing as good suffering. As someone who hates to waste anything, I find it encouraging and comforting to know that God will use every experience, including suffering, for his good purposes.
The statement implies that if there is good suffering, there must be less good or bad suffering. I’ve observed, and the Bible confirms, that good suffering eventually brings good fruit in our lives, while the bad kind can make us unfruitful, helpless, and hopeless. In other words, we become better or bitter depending on why we are suffering and how we deal with it.
Let’s see how Scripture comes to life on this challenging topic.
Good suffering often comes from obeying the Lord and doing what is right. When we choose the narrow, righteous path instead of the easier, wider path, we are guaranteed to suffer opposition and rejection, and this is painful. The apostles of Christ often reminded disciples that they should expect to suffer for their faith; God is pleased with and rewards this type of suffering (1 Pet.2:20; 3:14).
Paul told his protege Timothy, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2 Tim. 3:12). When we become true believers in the word of God and carry his Spirit, we will be drawn to godly living. If this invites persecution from unbelievers, we are called to face this suffering with joy because it is temporary, while the “better things waiting” will last forever (Heb. 10:34).
Paul takes this further, claiming, “We must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). He said this as to encourage the believers! It is just as encouraging today to know that when we endure suffering for Christ, we demonstrate our citizenship in his Kingdom and our alliance with its distinct values (2 Thess. 1:5). Good suffering follows and imitates Christ as Lord and King and teaches us to serve him faithfully in all seasons.
Good suffering identifies us with Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection. As children of God and joint heirs with Christ we inherit his glory. But “if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.” Our suffering now leads to greater glory later, and therefore isn’t “worthy to be compared with anything we have to go through now” (Rom. 8:16-18).
We suffer with Christ, “sharing in his death” and in due time, his resurrection life! (Phil 3:10-11). Peter taught Christ followers to be “very glad” when we experience “fiery trials” because they make us “partners with Christ in his suffering.” We will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world (1 Pet. 4:12-13).
On a personal note, I remember that when my mother was in her last months of life, I began grieving before her death. I would visit her in assisted living, and driving away, would weep in my car. Dementia had changed my beautiful, brilliant, brave mother into a lost, helpless, confused person I barely recognized. In those moments of deep sorrow, I would sense the sweet, tangible presence of Jesus, revealing to me that he fully understood my suffering. I had entered into a fellowship of suffering with him, and with others who had experienced these agonizing losses that life brings.
Good suffering connects us to others who are suffering. As one body, members are called to rejoice with the rejoicing and suffer with the suffering. Good suffering is shareable. We’re not to leave our brothers and sisters alone in their suffering but are to join them in it. This is how we produce “harmony among the members” and care for one another (1 Cor. 12:25-27).
We can do this because we have first been comforted by God. Good suffering elicits the help and comfort of God, who is with us in all our troubles (Ps. 91:15). Because God our Father is so ready to help us, we can help each other endure suffering without being crushed by it (2 Cor. 1:4-6). And because Jesus our High Priest suffered and was tested in all ways that we are tested, “he is able to help us when we are being tested” (Heb. 2:17-18).
Finally, good suffering brings us to the feet of Jesus. There is a marvelous story of a woman who hemorrhaged for twelve years and suffered greatly. We know her story because eventually she squeezed through the crowd as Jesus passed by and touched the hem of his garment. She was instantly healed. Her desperation led her to just the right place (Mk. 5:25-27).
In a similar way, when we suffer pain and hardship in life, we are instructed to pray (James 5:13) and seek him with our whole hearts. In comfortable, safe times, we might neglect our devotion to Jesus, forgetting to bring everything to him. Good suffering humbles us and reveals our need to come boldly and constantly to his throne of grace (Mk. 5:25-27).
The admonition embedded in this message about good suffering is that the Christian should only suffer for being and doing good, and not evil. Sin usually brings suffering, and this type of suffering brings no reward with it. But good suffering brings great reward, including the maturing of the fruit of patience (James 1:2-4).
Also, we learn from the Israelites in the wilderness that whining and complaining is not how we endure suffering. We all have very legitimate causes for suffering in this world, but we are admonished to suffer differently from those who are without hope (1 Thess. 4:13). This is good suffering.