“I should have been as though I had not been, carried from womb to tomb” are the words of the suffering Job as he voiced his complaints to God (Job 10:19). Having lost every earthly belonging, and all ten of his children—and surrounded by “miserable comforters” (16:2)—he regretted ever being born. Hear Job’s lament: “My soul loathes my life; I will give free course to my complaint, I will speak in the bitterness of my soul” (10:1). “Your hands have made me and fashioned me, an intricate unity; yet You would destroy me. Remember, I pray, that You have made me like clay. And will You turn me into dust again?” (10:8, 9). “You renew Your witnesses against me, and increase Your indignation toward me; changes and war are ever with me. Why then have You brought me out of the womb? Oh, that I had perished and no eye had seen me!” (Job 10:17, 18).
Intense, prolonged suffering can bring a believer to the point of despair, filled with protest, and wishing he had never been born. This reality draws attention to the power that suffering has to afflict the mind and soul. Therefore, we need to remind ourselves of biblical truth, like that which the Apostle Peter used to counsel his afflicted brethren.
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fi re, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:6–9)
The above passage teaches us seven truths about trials.
Trials are temporary (“now for a little while”). We need to view earthly trials as “light affliction, which is but for a moment… working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor 4:17, 18). By means of the pain of suffering God reminds us of the eternal weight of glory awaiting us and by doing so sends a fresh dose of lovingkindness and compassion, new mercy every morning. Great is His faithfulness! (Lam 3:22, 23).
Trials are necessary for our growth (“if need be”). God in His infinite wisdom knows exactly what kinds of trials must be designed to stimulate the growth necessary for our own spiritual health. Paul was given a “thorn in the flesh” and, though he did not enjoy it, God assured him it was the necessary treatment to stunt the growth of his cancerous pride, lest he become useless to God. As he learned to submit to God in his trial, he would also learn that God’s grace is sufficient (2 Cor 12:7–10). Greek scholar Kenneth Wuest wrote, “To those servants of God whom He purposes to use in a larger, greater way, many trials are allowed to come, for ‘we must be ground between the millstones of suffering before we can be bread for the multitude.’”
Trials are mentally distressing (“you have been grieved”). There is no pretending here. Peter knew his readers were “grieved.” This word does not refer to the suffering itself, but to the mental effects of suffering, which many times are worse than what can be identified bodily. The Psalmist admitted this. “Reproach has broken my heart, and I am full of heaviness; I looked for someone to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none” (Psalm 69:20). “My soul clings to the dust . . . my soul melts from heaviness” (Psalm 119:25, 28). Job said, “If I say, ‘I will forget my complaint, I will put off my sad face and wear a smile,’ I am afraid of all my sufferings; I know that You will not hold me innocent” (9:27, 28). The pain of suffering often compels us to search our hearts to see what may need to be cleansed by God through honest confession and repentance.
Trials are diverse (“various trials”). Trials come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes they afflict our bodies, other times our minds. Sometimes they disturb our comfort zones and other times our loved ones. Trials occur under the umbrella of God’s sovereignty. Job said to his grieving wife, “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” (2:10). Trials may come from Satan (as permitted by God). Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” came via, “a messenger of Satan” sent to “buffet” him (2 Cor 12:7). Trials may come from the world. Jesus warned of this in John 15:19. Trials may even come from our own disobedience. “For whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives. . . . Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb 12:6, 11).
Trials refine us (“though it is tested by fire”). God’s purpose in suffering is “that the genuineness of [our] faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” God does not ordain trials to set us up for failure but to prove the reality of our faith in a way similar to the process of purifying metals, our faith being more precious than gold itself, which is perishable. Kenneth Wuest provides a memorable illustration.
The picture here is of an ancient goldsmith who puts his crude gold ore in a crucible, subjects it to intense heat, and thus liquefies the mass. The impurities rise to the surface and are skimmed off. When the metalworker is able to see the reflection of his face clearly mirrored in the surface of the liquid, he takes it off the fire, for he knows that the contents are pure gold. So it is with God and His child. He puts us in the crucible of Christian suffering, in which process sin is gradually put out of our lives, our faith is purified from the slag of unbelief that somehow mingles with it so often, and the result is the reflection of the face of Jesus Christ in the character of the Christian. This, above all, God the Father desires to see. Christlikeness is God’s ideal for His child. Christian suffering is one of the most potent means to that end.
When we learn to submit our will to the will of God, in the midst of our sufferings, we will learn to say with Job, “When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).
Trials are faith-building (“whom having not seen you love”). Christians can rejoice in the midst of trials because even though we do not see God we believe in Him. This faith produces joy that exceeds speech and is full of glory—even in the face of pain. “And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:3–5).
Trials are beneficial (“receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls”). Suffering proves the genuineness of faith, which ultimately results in salvation. Trials not only prepare us for eternity, but they make us ache for it. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us…even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body” (Rom 8:18-23).
In the end, after his trial was over, Job learned a priceless lesson. “‘I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes’” (Job 42:5, 6). Job no longer wished he were dead because he had gained the godward outlook of faith. As a result, he saw his trial as a gift from above sent for his good and God’s glory. Do we see our trials from this God-centered perspective?