It is surprising to note how many times Scripture affirms that our pilgrimage to the Kingdom will not be without pain and suffering. The very profession of God’s Truth can often bring animosity and persecution. It is all a verification of that said in the beginning, that there would be enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. The Lord Jesus Christ affirms, too, that there will be suffering “for righteousness’ sake” and proclaims a blessing on those who endure it. In looking at the catalogue of the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 we find that there were not any who were not subject to challenge, pain and suffering, perhaps in different ways and circumstances, but they all had their convictions put to the proof.

We live in an age where men have sought to insulate themselves from the curses God brought upon man at the beginning. By great ingenuity men have sought to obtund pain, prolong life, eradicate noxious weeds and enjoy a life free from anxiety and trouble. But the scourge of pain and mortality still besets man and claims all in the end: it is still true, “For as in Adam all die” (1 Cor 15:22). God’s inexorable law of sin and death finally takes all and has taken all with one glowing exception, through whom the promise of immortality, incorruptibility has come to all who believe, even the Lord Jesus Christ, of whom it is said, “even so in Christ shall all be made alive”.

We might ask ourselves the question, Why are pain and suffering inseparable from the saints? Why is it said that “through much tribulation we must enter the Kingdom of God, and why do we read that those “arrayed in white robes” have “come out of great tribulation” (Rev 7:13–14)? Well, there is obviously a reason. It forms part of their preparation; their training, their purging so that they might be vessels fit for the Master’s use. So what effect does trouble, pain and suffering have on us? It makes us think seriously about issues we would not ever have contemplated in the normal out-working of events. Values are challenged when we endure pain. We begin to assess anew what things are really important in our lives: the gold is separated from the dross. The mind is sent into a whirl and works overtime. Disappointment and pain make us review our lives, our direction, our priorities, and this we constantly need to do for the world is forever seeking to impose upon us its values, to make us conform to its image, become involved in its sport, activities and society, and effectively to surrender our “first love”. So suffering and pain are sobering and help us to think more about the Father and how His promise will ultimately bring about the total elimination of suffering: “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev 21:4). What a glorious verse this is, and how poignant and relevant to the lot of Yahweh’s suffering servants!

But pain and suffering also work on the characters of God’s people. The thought patterns developed make them more sympathetic to the plight of their fellow saints, so they are better equipped to empathize with them. When our fellow servants suffer, scope and opportunity are provided for expressions of love; for example, cards with consoling words, flowers which give cheer and direct attention to their Maker’s power and beauty, prayers, phone calls and visits. All these “good works” are important (cp Matt 25:39, “When saw we thee sick… ?”), and bear testimony to the fact that the love of the Father has communicated itself with our hearts and borne fruit: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). Remember, too, how David sought to show the stricken Mephibosheth the “kindness [Heb chesed, steadfast love] of God “for Jonathan his father’s sake” (2 Sam 9:1–7). So we can see that there can be profit, not only for those afflicted, but also for those who show compassion.

Also pain makes its sufferers look to the One Who can alleviate it, to find solace in Him Who knows and controls all things. The experience of persecution caused Paul to look to the Father and say the following words: “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort” (2 Cor 1:3). Without the pain he would never have sought the Father and found these words to be true.

It is true that pain and suffering might cause some to doubt and fall away. God is aware and alive to the circumstances, good and bad, of all His servants. Trial puts them to the proof, and by it faith is tested and a finer vessel, with the dross removed, emerges. We can rest assured that God will not tempt us above what we are able to overcome. If He did we would simply have no hope. We have been told that He “will with the temptation [trial] also make a way to escape, that we may be able to bear it” (1 Cor 10:13). We may wonder what the “way [or ways] to escape” being overcome by temptation actually are. Some of them are: the help found in the Word of God; communion with God through His Son, our merciful and faithful High Priest (Heb 3); the fellowship, love and encouragement of fellow pilgrims etc. And at this point our thoughts have gone full circle. It is because our fellow servants have themselves passed through a vale of tears and sufferings that they are able to understand and provide comfort for us in time of desolation and need. So the negative experiences of pain and suffering do have a positive and profitable side. We are only as good as what we have been through. What do we know about those things we have never experienced? Very little. So God has a purpose with pain and suffering. It is for our spiritual development, our preparation to be merciful and faithful kings and priests in His coming Kingdom (Rev 5:9–10).

None of us would will pain and suffering to enter our lives. In fact our Lord taught us to pray that we might not be “led into temptation”, lest we should fall (Matt 6:13). We do not want disasters and life-changing events to come our way. But sometimes they do and it is then that our faith is put to the proof, it is then that the rough edges are smoothed over and we become bigger, better people and able to help in time of need. Yes, “The creature [creation] was made subject to vanity [evil, eg pain and suffering], not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope.” When we look at the examples of the faithful of old, like Job and Jeremiah, we can see that they experienced great hardship and suffering (Jas 5:10–11), but were they worse or better for it? Clearly they were developed by their experiences. In their lives they both experienced deliverance but will yet be partakers of the glorious “liberty of the children of God”, and will profess that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory revealed in them” (Rom 8:21,18).

Of course, the greatest example of all is our Saviour. His pain and sufferings transcended those of any man. He was not exempt from suffering and pain because he was the Son of God. Rather because of this fact he was caused to suffer in excess of any before or after, and in all of his excruciating trials, to remain sinless and uphold his Father’s righteousness. “Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth.” Because he “resisted unto blood, striving against sin”, we now have a priest who is merciful and faithful. His sorrows forged perfection: “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he sufferered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Heb 5:8–9).

So then, brethren and sisters, in answer to the question, “Can there be profit in pain and suffering?” we can say “Yes”.

Therefore let us not despair when trials come our way. Sorrow and grief we will experience, but in the end there will be joy. “Joy cometh, O that it were come.” The following words epitomize and encapsulate the hope of saints of all ages, including you and me: “And the ransomed of Yahweh shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isa 35:10).