One of the most basic things to understand about the Christian life is that it’s filled with trials and difficulties. The expectation that we might have early in our Christian life that it’s all going to be joy, all our prayers are going to be answered, there are going to be no difficulties, and “I’m going to conquer the world,” is a false one. It’s through many tribulations that we enter the Kingdom of God. That was one of Paul’s first lessons that he learned as a missionary.In Jesus Christ there is assurance that in the darkest of places, “He loves me because Jesus died for me.”
The Book of Job for me has been something of a personal journey not because I’ve experienced great trials in my own life but I’ve been a pastor witnessing great severe trials in the lives of some of the godliest of God’s people and having no particular answer to give them when they ask the question, “Why? Why me?” The Book of Job in itself is somewhat difficult in that it doesn’t actually give you an answer as to personal suffering. What it does is point you to God and say, “It’s not important that you understand why you are suffering. What is important is that God understands that you trust him.” And that for me was a key to answering the problem of pain and suffering at least on a personal level in the lives of individuals.
I also found that reading many of the Puritans for example who were masters in exergeting pain and suffering, who understood that life is about self-denial and cross bearing and is also a fight. For me, Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan became a very important book. I now say these days that second to the Bible, every Christian should read and study Pilgrim’s Progress part 1 and part 2. The imagery that Bunyan gives you of an armed soldier meeting Apollyon and enemies along the way is one that prepares us in advance for trials that are to come.
Of course, the answer to suffering is always in the Gospel. Why I individually suffer? I don’t know. Sometimes we suffer because we sin. Sometimes we suffer because of issues that are known only to God. But in Jesus Christ there is always assurance that even in the darkest of places, “He loves me because Jesus died for me, shed his blood for me, and rose for me, and that can never be taken away.”