Vocation is a term that we customarily associate with the word occupation. In fact, our culture makes such a close connection between these two concepts that many people acquire the specific skills they need to earn a living at institutions named “vocational schools.” This link between vocation and employment is not incorrect, but vocation is a concept that includes more than just one’s employment. We get the term vocation from the Latin verb vocāre, which means “to call.” Thus, the word vocation applies to any calling that we receive.
Scripture is clear that suffering is one of the many vocations—calls—that the Lord gives to His people. This may be hard for us to receive, but there are many examples in the Bible of people who were called to periods of pain and difficulty. God allowed Job, for instance, to experience all manner of trouble. What is particularly important about Job’s suffering is that although we know Job was called to suffer because the Lord permitted tragedy to afflict him (Job 1:12; 2:6), Job was never given the specific reasons for his pain. When Job asked, “Why?” God answers by emphasizing His sovereignty and, consequently, Job’s need to trust Him (chaps. 38–41). Much of our suffering falls into this category—we do not know exactly why the Lord lets it happen, but we must nonetheless trust His goodness.
The man born blind was also called of God to suffer (John 9). Neither his sin nor the sin of his parents caused his suffering; rather, he was born blind that his healing would manifest God’s glory in Christ (vv. 1–5). We are certainly not making a mere conjecture to say that this man, knowing the role of his blindness in Jesus’ glorification, was later grateful that the Lord allowed his temporary affliction.
Our Savior is the example par excellence of the vocation of suffering. Simeon told Mary that Jesus’ suffering would hurt Him but also grieve her (Luke 2:34–35). Notably, in bearing the wrath of God for our sin, Jesus suffered far more in a few hours than any of us will experience in a lifetime, and He was sustained in His suffering only because He entrusted Himself wholly to His Father (1 Peter 2:23). Unless we trust in God and His good purposes, even when they are mysteries, we will be unable to endure the pain in our lives.
Since God is absolutely sovereign over all and works all things according to His purposes (Eph. 1:11), we understand that every instance of suffering results from His calling upon us. This is true even when we do not know why we are suffering. The important thing is that He knows why we are suffering, and He is working to conform us to the image of Christ in the midst of our pain. For that we can always be grateful.