The official Thanksgiving holiday is now in the rearview mirror, but to be genuinely thankful remains a daily challenge for all of us. We have to keep working on it because the Bible says, “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
God’s command to be thankful about everything seems impossible in light of all the problems we encounter in this life. After all, if God is good and loving, why does He allow us to suffer? Since He is all-powerful, couldn’t He keep hurtful things from happening?
The Bible has bold answers to those questions. Before we look at the answers, though, we need to remind ourselves of God’s power. In spite of our difficulties and disappointments, there is no question that God can do anything that He wants. “Ah Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You” (Jeremiah 32:17).
That must mean that God allows suffering. To be clear, God did not create us so we can experience suffering. There was no pain in this world until our first parents sinned by rebelling against God’s will (see Genesis 3:16-19). Sadly, we have all inherited that same tendency to sin.
Yes, God has allowed the difficulties we experience, but He is so wise and powerful that He can use our pain and suffering as a tool to bring blessing to us.
Let’s take a look at what some of those blessings are. To begin with, pain is a reminder that we need to be delivered from the eternal consequences of sin. Remember, before sin there was no pain. If we continue to follow our own way and neglect God, we will spend eternity in the place He created for the Devil and all his evil. Eternity without God will be unremitting pain. (Did you know that Jesus talked more about hell than He did about heaven? He warned us about it over and over again.) A comfortable, trouble-free life here and now could make us feel as if we didn’t need God. It wouldn’t be much of a blessing if we lived a pain-free life on this earth and then spent eternity suffering, would it?
The suffering that God allows has other benefits as well. When God’s followers wander away from the One who died for them, He uses suffering to drive them back to Him. When we are close to Him, we have a sense of peace that “…surpasses all comprehension…” (Philippians 4:7).
Suffering also teaches us so much about our God. If God has given you a love for Him, then you would like to do what pleases Him. We all tend to learn more about God during tough times than we do when life feels good. “Before I was afflicted, I went astray, but now I keep Your word. You are good and do good; Teach me Your statutes [laws]…. It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes” (Psalm 119: 67–68, 71).
Here is another reason why God may allow suffering. Sometimes God uses short-term suffering to produce long-term good. The story about Joseph in the Old Testament is a good illustration (see Genesis, Chapters 37 and 39-45).
Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, arrested for a crime he did not commit, and then spent several years in prison. God continued working in Joseph’s life, though, and He eventually raised him to be the second in command in Egypt. Joseph’s wise planning provided food for the entire land of Egypt–and eventually for his estranged family–so that all could be well fed during a worldwide, seven-year famine. That’s why Joseph could tell his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Genesis 50:20).
We usually can’t see the good God is going to bring through our suffering, especially when we are going through the worst of the pain. We know His heart, though. We know His purpose. Those of us who follow Him, who are His children, hang on to Him by faith through the suffering.
God didn’t cause the sin that has brought pain and suffering into this world, but He wants to use it to bring about what is ultimately good. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). If you surrender your life to the Lord, He will implant a love for Him that you have never had before. God promises to give us “…a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and [He says] I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).
When you become a Christian, you can look with me beyond this troubled world to the future God has prepared for those who love Him. That will be a time when God will “will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4).
The God who has the power to do that, who created this universe, who controls it, and who loves me, is controlling everything that happens in my life–both the good things and the bad ones–and is working them all together for good. For that I can be truly thankful.