You might have heard the adage “That which does not kill me makes me stronger (1).” However, I imagine that for most of us, it isn’t difficult to think of instances in which this has not held true for us. Physically, we suffer many injuries that leave us weaker for life than we would have been otherwise, and as we age, many diseases threaten our mental capacities.
In college, I had a (de)motivational poster hanging on my wall that read, “Adversity: That which does not kill me postpones the inevitable.” I took it to mean that, at best, suffering is pointless. This belief is an easy one to fall into—after years of abject poverty or chronic pain, or even after one particularly bad day, the temptation to believe that adversity serves no purpose other than to make us hate our lives can be overwhelming.
Notwithstanding, the Bible presents us with a completely different view of pain, suffering, and insurmountable challenges. While it promises us that “in this world ye shall have tribulation,” over and over again, it exhorts us to “rejoice and be exceeding glad,” “be of good cheer,” and “be strong and of a good courage.” In many of the stories of the Bible, God is glorified in the suffering of His servants, and ultimately His servants receive a great blessing.
Besides just telling us to be of good cheer, the Bible also reveals God’s purpose in allowing us to suffer. In Acts 14, we read that Paul and Barnabas exhorted the early Christians “that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” When our suffering results in the salvation of others, we will reap a great blessing throughout eternity.
Job, perhaps the servant of God best-known for suffering in the history of the world, was not only blessed and honored by God for his faithfulness, but his story was recorded in the Bible so that countless generations of God’s children could have a better understanding of sin, suffering, and God’s character.
When Paul and Silas prayed and sang at midnight in the prison and were freed in the earthquake, their faithfulness to God in their suffering brought the jailer and his family to Christ. Later, in his letter to the Philippians, Paul said, “But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear."
Regarding King David, Ellen White says (2):
Through years of waiting and peril, David learned to find in God his comfort, his support, his life. He learned that only by God's power could he come to the throne; only in His wisdom could he rule wisely. It was through the training in the school of hardship and sorrow that David was able to make the record—though afterward marred with his great sin—that he "executed judgment and justice unto all his people." 2 Samuel 8:15.
Regarding King Solomon, she says:
The discipline of David's early experience was lacking in that of Solomon…the pride of prosperity brought separation from God…
By his own bitter experience, Solomon learned the emptiness of a life that seeks in earthly things its highest good…
In his later years, turning wearied and thirsting from earth's broken cisterns, Solomon returned to drink at the fountain of life…For him at last the discipline of suffering accomplished its work.
Despite knowing what our Bibles say about adversity, when we are in the midst of suffering and we run across verses like Philippians 4:19, “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus,” it can be tempting to accuse God of not supplying all our needs, much less according to His infinite riches. When we see Psalm 91:10, “There shall no evil befall thee,” all of the evil that has befallen us may leap to mind, trying to prove to us that God is slack concerning His promises.
At these times, it is imperative that we fortify our minds with the promises of the Bible, and “trust the hand that is omnipotent, the heart that is full of love (3).”
I have seen in my own life that God has used suffering to bring me into communion with Him. Like the paralytic in Capernaum, much of my suffering was caused by my own sin, and by my failures to live according to God’s councils. And, like the paralytic, I can attest to the fact that Jesus both has the power to forgive sins, and to heal physical ailments.
My persistence in sin blocked God from granting me many blessings, but ever since I decided to unconditionally surrender my will to His, I have seen that He has met all of my needs, He has turned my suffering into a blessing, and He has handled every insurmountable difficulty I have faced.
My advice, then, to those who are suffering and in need, is first and foremost, to take up your cross, crucify self, and surrender your will to God. If you do this, you will experience the blessing of the “shadow of the Almighty,” and you can rest assured that all of your suffering will be made a blessing to you and to the world.
One of the most precious promises in the writings of Ellen White can be found in chapter 22 of Desire of Ages:
God never leads His children otherwise than they would choose to be led, if they could see the end from the beginning, and discern the glory of the purpose which they are fulfilling as co-workers with Him. Not Enoch, who was translated to heaven, not Elijah, who ascended in a chariot of fire, was greater or more honored than John the Baptist, who perished alone in the dungeon. "Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake." Phil. 1:29. And of all the gifts that Heaven can bestow upon men, fellowship with Christ in His sufferings is the most weighty trust and the highest honor.
- This is a paraphrase from Friedrich Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols. The original quote is “Out of life's school of war: What does not destroy me, makes me stronger.”
- Education, pages 152-154.
- Review and Herald, Apr. 7, 1885.