The purpose of suffering

As I’m going through a little bit of suffering, recovering from a procedure yesterday to remove a large kidney stone, I thought the following scriptural meditation from the Russian book, “Day by Day”, might be appropriate:

Scripture: “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory, so that God’s Son may be glorified through it” (John: 11, 4)


"We encounter sickness, sorrow and grief at every turn. Not a single human life can avoid this. And although grief is essentially such an ordinary thing, at the same time it is also very mysterious. And amidst the grief very often and very naturally the question arises: why? We will probably receive the full answer only beyond the grave; but in part it is also given to us here to understand the aim and purpose of the trials sent to us.

"In order to understand this purpose, we must remember that our sorrow does not affect only us, but its influence extends much farther. In the story of the sickness, death and resurrection of Lazarus we see the confirmation of the above. This event and miracle performed by the Savior in Bethany had four different effects and meanings. It was necessary for the Savior Himself: “so that God’s Son may be glorified through it”. It was necessary for the apostles: “and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe’’ (John: 11, 15).

"The Savior knew what a strong impression this miracle would make on the apostles, and said: “I am glad”. And of course the ones this event affected the most were Lazarus’s sisters, and when their beloved brother, whom they had grieved as dead, was returned to them, they also became convinced in the divinity of Jesus Christ. They understood for the first time what He could be for those who truly believed in Him. And finally, this grief and this miracle was necessary for the Jews themselves. Let us recall the words of the Savior: “Father, I thank You that you have heard me. I knew that You always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that You sent me.” (John: 11: 41-42).

"Thus, the great grief experienced by Lazarus’s sisters was also to have a benevolent effect on the people who had gathered for this occasion in Bethany.

“The purpose of the trial is revealed to us here with a completely new meaning, it is illuminated by a new light in which we perhaps are not used to seeing grief. But in our time all trials and sorrows have the same purpose – salvation of the human soul. For the Lord every trial is only a way of revealing to people the omnipotence of His saving grace. Be of good heart, brothers! Be courageous, be strengthened through hope, learn to rejoice also in sufferings (Rom: 5,3), since ‘endurance must have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing’ (James: 1,4)”

I’m not sure what the best Lewis connection here would be. Goffar’s “C.S. Lewis Index” has many references to suffering, and I quote one of them below. One thing that helps me a little (and my suffering now is minimal, and will presumably pass soon) is to keeping asking God for help, and not keep thinking that I’m in this alone (of course, sharing with others can also be helpful). Another is to focus on texts like the above which show a profound insight into the purpose of suffering, which focus on what is good, and are beautifully expressed. As Christians, we know how much good suffering can bring, although actually accepting it for ourselves is not easy, as Lewis says in “The problem of Pain” (chap 6, par 16):

“All arguments in justification of suffering provoke bitter resentment against the author. You would like to know how I behave when I am experiencing pain, not writing books about it. You need not guess, for I will tell you; I am a great coward. But what is that to the purpose? When I think of pain – of anxiety that gnaws like fire and loneliness that spreads out like a desert, and the heartbreaking routine of monotonous misery , or again of dull aches that blacken our whole landscape or sudden nauseating pains that knock a man’s heart out at one blow…If I knew any way of escape I would crawl through sewers to find it. But what is the good of telling you about my feelings? You know them already : they are the same as yours. I’m not arguing that pain is not painful. Pain hurts. That is what the word means. I’m only trying to show that the old Christian doctrine of being made “perfect through suffering” (Heb. 2, 10) is not incredible. To prove it palatable is beyond my design.”


“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Love will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8)

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