Why Must Christians Suffer?
By Chea Oei Kiang
Over the past six months since the start of the pandemic, I learned many new songs while selecting songs to lead for our church’s online worship services. “When Trials Come”, “O God, My Rock and My Redeemer”, and “He will Hold Me Fast” were a few of them.
Among those songs, I noticed a common theme: God’s faithfulness and presence in the midst of trying and sorrowful moments. Each of those songs also carried a call for believers to trust in God in times of adversity.
Suffering is no stranger to all who are believers. We see in the Bible that many OT and NT saints suffered greatly for their faith, and God at appropriate times sent prophets and apostles to encourage His people to be steadfast, trust in Him, and persevere to the end. The Jewish Christians in the book of Hebrews were one such people who suffered afflictions (Heb 10:33-34), and the apostle Paul wrote to exhort them to “hold fast to their profession of faith without wavering”.
I often wondered why God spoke about how we should deny ourselves and carry His cross (Mark 8:34), as if following Him will necessarily lead to a life of toil and stress. Indeed, why can’t God make our burden lighter and allow moments of joy and bliss to last longer and occur more frequently? While I know that life as a Christian is not always rosy, is it wrong for us to expect more blessings now than when life was lived without God?
But as I began to understand the purposes of God better, it became clear that trials and difficulties in life are in fact part of God’s sovereign plan. Firstly, they are designed to make us depend on God and not ourselves. Imagine if life is always free from problem and affliction, it would be easy to take God for granted, or even forget God. It would be easy to think that what we are and all we possess are the fruits of our labour.
Secondly, trials are there to mould our character (not so much to make us stronger to handle life’s challenges), so that our faith in God may be strengthened when we experience Him helping us through times of fear or great anxiety. As James 1:2 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.”
Thirdly, I believe trials remind us that this world is not our final home. We are by nature drawn to all the charms of this world—material, pleasure, entertainment etc. If God were to spare us from trials, we would very likely be too attached to this world to contemplate our final home. We could be trapped in the offerings of this world that please our senses and make us forget that we are only sojourners here.
Looking around us, it is not difficult to find many people confronted with fear or stress that comes in various forms, such as a life-threatening illness, strained or broken relationships, conflicts, anxiety, to name a few. These are trials we can’t avoid since our mortal bodies are subject to decay and our minds constantly struggle against our sinful self as well as the value system of the world so diametrically opposed to Christian values.
Knowing this, I thank God for the songs I found, for singing them always reminds me that God is my refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1). One of the songs I’ve begun listening to is “Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul” (which incidentally is an 18th century hymn which was given a new melody). It tells us to direct our thoughts to God in times of sorrow and pain:
“Dear refuge of my weary soul, On Thee, when sorrows rise On Thee, when waves of trouble roll, My fainting hope relies To Thee I tell each rising grief, For Thou alone canst heal Thy Word can bring a sweet relief, For every pain I feel
But oh! When gloomy doubts prevail, I fear to call Thee mine The springs of comfort seem to fail, And all my hopes decline Yet gracious God, where shall I flee? Thou art my only trust And still my soul would cleave to Thee Though prostrate in the dust”
May we always be ready to bear the cross daily!