We all know very well what happens if muscles are not exercised. They get flabby. Not because they ‘turn to fat’ but because they lose the mass that develops when we push them. It’s nature’s way of conserving energy—‘Ah,’ it says, ‘You’re not needing these muscles now? Ok, I’ll use the energy somewhere else.’
Muscles do not develop without being pushed. And even bones do not develop properly if there is no stress put on them—like learning to walk and run.
It’s much the same with trials. If we didn’t have to go through any difficulties, we might think we’d be happier, but we wouldn’t really be a part of the human race. Unlike most animals, we have to actually learn to walk and every child has many falls as he learns. From then on, virtually every new motor skill results in many failures before accomplishment—whether running, jumping, climbing, skating, biking or whatever. It’s a good thing we start learning these things as children, because a great many adults would likely never try, knowing the struggle it was going to be. The fear of broken legs and arms keeps a great many of us from learning new skills like ice skating or skiing in older age.
Trials are similar to developing muscle. They are a necessary part of our growth, maturity and development and are usually not God just punishing us! It says of Christ that He ‘learned obedience by the things He suffered’ (Heb 5:8) This does not mean—in any way—that Christ was disobedient! It means He willingly submitted to the things He suffered in order to learn what it meant to suffer.
“For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb 4:15-16)
Have you ever had someone young and/or simply inexperienced tell you, “I know just what you’re going through”? Unless that person has gone through just what you’ve gone through, you take their empathy with a grain of salt. There just is no way to know what it’s like to lose a child, a mate, go through divorce, a serious car accident, loss of a job, long-term illness, etc unless you have gone through it yourself. We can sympathize with someone’s trials we’ve never experienced but we cannot empathize without a similar experience.
Paul said something very interesting about his trials: “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of His body, which is the church.” Colosssians 1:24 NIV
What does he mean about afflictions which are ‘lacking’ in Christ’s Body? This may be just speculation, but it is possible he means that, as Christ continues to live His life in us, our sufferings add knowledge and understanding. There are all kinds of human afflictions Christ had no time or opportunity to experience during His short time on earth. Christ never lost an arm or leg, never had a disease, never lost a child, was not born blind, never had his home vandalized, never was in traction for months after a severe car accident… The list could go on and on.
In order for the Body of Christ—the Church—to be fully empathetic of every type of human tragedy and suffering, it may be necessary that one of the Elect has to go through it. Then, as a complete entity, the Body of Christ would never encounter anyone throughout the ages who would ever be able to say, “You don’t understand.”
Paul certainly did not ‘deserve’ to be shipwrecked, starved, left in the open ocean to die, beaten, stoned, imprisoned, etc., etc. But he rejoiced that he was counted worthy to add his afflictions to Christ’s Body—the Church.
So we too should not see trials as God punishing us or even as always the direct result of ours or others’ sins. Sometimes we do bring things on ourselves and others’ actions do affect us and we must acknowledge that. But many times trials and sufferings come upon the very best of God’s people for no apparent reason.
It’s hard to ‘count it all joy’ when we fall into trials and difficulties, (James 1:2) but it should help to realize we are very likely being prepared to be able to understand those who will come after us.
Look how Paul says it in the one of the clearest verses which speak of a huge reason for our trials and difficulties: 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that WE may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
So ALL of our times of difficulties are there for a purpose of preparing us to effectively help the billions who will be resurrected in the future.
No one in the second resurrection is going to be able to say, “But you never went through that, so you don’t understand!” While we cannot all go through all the trials life brings (thankfully), we all have our contribution to the whole, and—as One Body—will have experienced every possible type of suffering and trial mankind is capable of.
This will also include all of us who have had to repent of and overcome every possible sinful conduct – but we experienced the victory over sin and death through Jesus Christ! So as a group, the children of God will be able to provide many leaders who will be able to relate with absolutely anyone.
After all, we are going to be priests and rulers to the entire world one day! (Rev 1:6; 5:10) Like Christ, in order to be an effective priest and ruler, we must understand their sufferings.