God causes suffering in order to wrestle our idols away from us
Pain and suffering play a key role in our sanctification. Without them, we might become content with earthly things, which cannot ultimately satisfy us. When life is peachy, we tend to ignore God. Only when life becomes hard, do most of us acknowledge our frailty and cry out to Him. God’s purpose and desire for us is far greater than anything that earthly possessions or ambitions or the American dream could possibly have to offer. If God allowed us to bow down and worship those idols in peace and happiness, undisturbed by divinely-ordained, attention-getting, distraction-shattering pain, we would end up destroying ourselves. Many of our earthly desires are nice to have, some even seem essential, but can anything in this world actually contend with the greatness of the heavenly benefits God would readily give us? Not a chance! What God gives us not only lasts forever (unlike anything else we could long for), but is also better for us today (whether we realize it or not).
Augustine has said that “God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full — there’s nowhere for Him to put it.” We view it as an unbearable suffering to have what we love ripped from our kung fu death grip, but that’s only because we (in our inestimably pervasive idolatry) do not rightly assess the relative value of that thing compared to that which God is trying to hand us instead. Even very good things can become temptations which we desire too much for a loving God to let us keep them … because they would displace the amazing fruit He desires to bear in our lives if we would just allow Him to do so.
I may want a child more than anything in the world. And it is indeed terribly difficult to be unable to have children. But is it possible that God has purposely sent such a trial — withholding the blessing of children — in order that I might worship Him instead of worshiping parenthood?
I may have gotten passed over for the 3rd promotion in just as many years, maybe even for unjust reasons, and it hurts to think that life is so unfair. But is it possible that, knowing me as He does, God is acting intentionally to ensure that I will not love position or power or prosperity more than I love Him?
CS Lewis writes about a friend who once said that “we regard God as an airman regards his parachute: it’s there for emergencies but he hopes he’ll never have to use it.” This view of God leads to hell. A good and loving God, explicitly then, may use what we call suffering to wake us up to the reality that God is not a parachute. He’s a King! If that suffering can derail our idolatrous self-sufficiency and drive us to a place of hard-fought willingness to lay down our pocket gods and pick up the much greater life of worship and eternal union with God, then God considers suffering to be eminently worth it.
Read more about the goodness of God, and how and why God introduces suffering into our lives.