How many of us would be where we are in our relationship to God today were it not for pain, suffering, loss, misunderstandings, or rejection? He uses all of that on our behalf, and that’s why God isn’t always quick to heal us. But He always has a goal in mind—His ultimate goal—to conform us to the image of His Son.
—Charles F. Stanley, “Help for Our Healing”
As a former English teacher, I am always eager to hear about what my sons are reading in school. My youngest has just embarked on one of my all-time favorite books for middle schoolers, The Giver by Lois Lowry. It tells the story of Jonas, an 11-year-old boy who is being raised in a futuristic community that has eliminated pain, fear, jealousy, and any other negative emotion a human can experience. In exchange, the members of this community unknowingly sacrifice positive emotions like joy and love as well as the freedom to make their own choices. As the novel progresses, what looks to be a utopian world turns out to be anything but.
During class one afternoon, the teacher asked a heady question for a bunch of tweens: Do you think pain is necessary? My son said no. So when he asked me the same question and my answer was an emphatic yes, he was taken aback. It led to an excellent discussion about other dystopian novels like Brave New World, where people take copious amounts of a drug called soma to avoid unpleasantness, and Fahrenheit 451, a book in which people self-medicate by filling their walls with screens and immersing themselves in a false reality. (Sounds oddly familiar, doesn’t it?)
I’m no masochist. I don’t enjoy physical or emotional suffering, but I know God has a greater goal in mind when He allows hardships to come my way.
I’m no masochist. I don’t enjoy physical or emotional suffering, but I know God has a greater goal in mind when He allows hardships to come my way, and that gives me the strength to endure whatever happens. (See Rom. 5:1-5; Rom. 8:18-25; Ps. 119:75.) Sometimes I’m still tempted to do what my son thought was best—push away pain with both hands, ignore it, or soothe myself until it subsides. But when I do, I miss out on powerful lessons.
In my four decades on this earth, I’ve come to understand that the most vital instructions sometimes can’t be learned “the easy way.” That’s why God, in His perfect wisdom, gives us challenges—so that we have something to sharpen ourselves against, a way to grow and develop into the fuller, spiritually mature version of ourselves He has in mind. The process won’t always be pleasant, but the end result is sure to be nothing short of glorious.