What is the purpose of affliction and trials? Why does our all-loving God allow them into our lives? We know that He is a God of mercy and comfort, so why does He let us experience suffering in the first place?
These are very common questions asked by a variety of people—the mocking skeptic, the weary pilgrim, and the Christian whose experienced tragedy. We often find it hard to understand why God allows certain trials, afflictions, sufferings, and persecutions into our lives. And even though we’ve already learned that God is great in mercy and generous in His comfort and that the more we suffer the greater His abundant comfort, we still ask why. Why the pain? Why the heartache? Just plain why?
The Apostle Paul was familiar with these feelings and had his moments when he asked the very same questions. However, he found an answer to the “why?” and shares it with us in II Corinthians 1:9.
“For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”
~II Corinthians 1:8-9
Before we jump into this passage, let’s back up and get some context. Paul has just been writing on the amazing comfort of God, who comforts when we are afflicted. He then goes on to share that our affliction in Christ brings about greater comfort and that his affliction on behalf of the Corinthians was for their salvation and comfort. Now Paul wants the Corinthians to know of the trials he and his team had experienced in Asia, how things got so bad that they didn’t think they would make it out alive. However, God had other plans.
But why does Paul share this? Why did he not want the Corinthians to be unaware of his suffering?
At first glance it would seem prideful and selfish for Paul to be sharing these details with the Corinthians and thus with the rest of the world. However, his purpose and intention is revealed in verse nine: “But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” Paul wanted to point this situation out to the Corinthians to show them that the purpose of suffering and affliction was not only to experience the comfort of God but also to humble them and bring them to the place where they no longer relied upon themselves but on God who can do the impossible.
And this is also a message for us today. The same God who raised Jesus from the dead, who split the waters of the Red Sea, and created the world in just six days, sees us in the midst of our affliction and will see us through. He will not leave or abandon us. His mercy and comfort is ever near, and His sovereignty has everything in control.
Therefore, let us not rely upon ourselves. Let us not deceive ourselves into thinking that by our strength we can survive. But let us be humble, let us trust the One who holds our future, and let us believe Him when He says:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
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