Wisdom Through Suffering

It is better to go the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart” (Ecc. 13:2).

- Ecclesiastes 7:1-13

No evangelical Christian disagrees with the proposition that “God is sovereign.” Certainly, not every believer has a biblical understanding of sovereignty — denying as they do God’s sovereign election — but no Christian would say that God is not Lord over all, for the Lord’s sovereignty is declared throughout Scripture.

When we meet intense suffering, however, there is a strong temptation for us to deny either God’s goodness or His sovereignty. This is because pain can lead us to forget the Lord’s purposes for us while we suffer. The truth of the matter is that God uses pain to discipline us, sanctify us, and give us wisdom (Heb. 12:3–17). Paradoxically, trouble should make us affirm even more strongly that our Creator is sovereign and good, that while bad things are not good in themselves, God nevertheless has a good purpose for letting them into our lives. Pain, when we respond to it in the power of the Holy Spirit, conforms us to Christ, and the “school of hard knocks” gives us a wisdom that we could never enjoy if we lived a life free of difficulty.

Ecclesiastes presents this truth well, encapsulating it in the statement that “it is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting” (Eccl. 7:2). Parties and feasts are good and fun, providing the rest, recreation, and fellowship that all human beings need. Yet they are not, in the main, useful for contemplating eternity. While there is an appropriate time to celebrate and make merry, we too easily enjoy such occasions without reference to the Lord our God. Grieving with a sober heart, however, orients us to the things of God in a way that celebration cannot. Tragedy and death remind us that life is fleeting, that this world has not yet been renewed, and that we need to put our hope in the Lord and not in the fleeting pleasures of this world (1 John 2:15–17).

Christians are not to be dour people; indeed, we are to be filled with joy (Phil. 4:4). Still, this is not a frivolous happiness but a joy rooted in what our Father has done for us in sending His Son and sealing us with His Spirit. It is in our mourning that we gain a greater taste of the grief and sorrow that was required to purchase our redemption when Jesus went to the cross for us. If even He “learned obedience through what he suffered” (Heb. 5:8), we should not think that less will be required of us.

Coram Deo

In his novel Redburn, Herman Melville writes, “Not till we know, that one grief outweighs ten thousand joys, will we become what Christianity is striving to make us.” Though Scripture is clear that suffering in itself is painful, it is also plain that the Lord has a good purpose in our pain, using it for our good and His glory (Rom. 8:28). Hurting itself should not make us glad, but we should rejoice in suffering, for we know that God uses it to perfect us.

Passages for Further Study

Proverbs 5:7–14
2 Corinthians 7:10
Colossians 1:24
1 Peter 4:12–13

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