Why would God let his children suffer?

Surely if God has freed us from sin and death, we should be free of suffering too, right? But the history of Christianity is littered with stories of terrible persecution, of being burnt at the stake, torn apart by lions, and being rejected by family. Why, though? What’s the point of it all?

Paul’s answer in Romans 8:17 is: “Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” We suffer so we can share Christ’s glory. But how does suffering actually do that? 

Well, first of all, what kind of suffering did Paul have in mind? It’s the same suffering Jesus went through. So what kind of suffering did Jesus go through? He came “in the likeness of sinful man” (verse 3). He came to experience life as a human being up against the power of sin, but not just that, it was to be a “sin offering,” too, to “condemn sin in sinful man” (verse 3).

And how did he condemn sin? By being the first person ever to “not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit (verse 4).” This was the suffering Jesus experienced. It was the constant battle in his mind between the Spirit controlling his thoughts or typical human nature. It was a battle all right because “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires, but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires (verse 5).” It was either one or the other, and for Jesus it could only be setting his mind on what the Spirit desires, never human nature.

And that’s the same suffering God wants us to go through for us to share the same glory Jesus has. Why? Because “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace (verse 6).” We need to learn where life truly is. It’s in the Spirit. And to help us learn that God put us in human bodies “subjected to frustration (verse 20)” in a world in “bondage to decay (verse 21)” and “groaning as in the pains of childbirth (verse 22),” in the hope that we’d realize how helpless we are and look to the Spirit, just as Jesus did, to control our lives instead.

God lets his children suffer, therefore, in the hope that we will turn to the liberating power of the Spirit to help us in our weakness (verse 26), so that we too can learn where life truly is.