Spiritually, we don’t mature unless God brings us “there,” to those places of pressure and pain. We may well ask, “Why?”, and this is the question most on our lips during such seasons. It is tempting to think we can grow without going “there,” to assure ourselves that suffering isn’t a necessary part of spiritual life. To be sure, there are teachers who are all too ready to confirm this falsity.
But none of this answers the question—“Why?” We can consign a part of this to divine mystery. But to make this our whole answer would be willfully ignorant. The clearest answer to why we must suffer “there” is Jesus Himself.
Jesus has suffered immeasurably, more than you or I can begin to comprehend. Certainly, the cross is the most acute instance of pain our Savior knows. Through the cross, God made Jesus into a great nation, a nation of all who believe.
Beyond the cross, think of how He has borne with us our entire history. Think how, even now, He sees the brutality and immorality we inflict on one another every day. For us, the sorrow would be unbearable! Do we think we can know Jesus intimately, or be like Him in any measure without suffering ourselves?
Paul tells us this truth in numerous places (Rom. 8:17; Php. 3:10; 2 Tim. 2:12, 3:12). John calls himself our “brother and partner in the tribulation, kingdom, and endurance that are in Jesus” (Rev. 1:9). Peter says we are called to suffer “because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21). To say that God will never take us “there,” to a place of pain, is to ignore large swaths of scripture and place ourselves above our Master (John 13:16).
Still, suffering is not an end in itself; it was not God’s final intention for Israel or Christ, and it is not His final intention for us. God promised Jacob He would make him into a great nation “there.” God’s promise to us is the same: He will make us into spiritually rich, mature sons and daughters “there.”
Paul observed that “our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17). Elsewhere, Paul says, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed in us” (Rom.8:18). Because of the loss it entails, Jesus tells us to count the cost of being His disciple (Luke 14:26–27). But accepting that cost means profound gain through His life (Mark 10:29-30; Luke 9:24).