As I sat across the counseling room from Diana, who had lost her daughter in a tragic accident four months prior, she said something I’ve heard from so many others in the midst of pain. She said, “If I just knew why; if God would just show me how He could possibly use this for good so that I could be confident my daughter didn’t die in vain, then I could move forward.” I believe that her pain and grief are completely justified and I could certainly identify with the question. Who hasn’t shouted “Why?!” in the midst of despair?
The truth is, no answer exists that would remove the pain. But we’d all like to believe there might be one that would help us to see a grander purpose within what often feels arbitrary and unfair. Sometimes, by God’s grace, we are able catch glimpses of the redemption of our suffering. Parents of children who overdose can do remarkable good by raising awareness and preventing similar destruction. Couples who once teetered on the edge of divorce can testify of stronger marriages because of their willingness to do the hard work of forgiveness. Athletes with career-ending injuries realize that life is better when they can devote more energy toward their families. Though I’m incredibly thankful for these types of examples, I propose this is a limited view of how God redeems our suffering.
For a more robust perspective, I look to 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, which says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” There are several promises here that we can cling to during our trials. Notice that Scripture does not say if we suffer, it assumes we will have troubles. When we do, our “Father of compassion” has promised to comfort us in all of our troubles. This means that whether we are suffering because of our own bad choices or because of something that was completely out of our control, the same God will see us and comfort us when we allow Him access to our hearts.
The second promise from this passage cannot be overstated. When we receive comfort from our Heavenly Father in our trials, it enables us to provide others with that same life-giving comfort when they are in despair. That is the essence of redemptive suffering. Redemption means making a bad, unpleasant, or evil thing better, acceptable, or justified; therefore, the very act of God using our suffering to advance hope and healing in someone else makes it redemptive. It doesn’t even have to be that we’ve gone through the same circumstance for God to use our pain as an instrument of healing for someone else.
Humanity will forever be marked by brokenness and suffering. If we live long enough, most of us will deal with loss, betrayal, rejection, or grief of some nature. Yet, this brokenness actually enables us to be a people marked by compassion. The same God who comforted a daughter during her abusive relationship can use her to comfort a son during his battle with cancer. Our brokenness leads us to compassion if we allow God into those broken places and trust in His goodness to redeem it in whatever manner He sees fit.
My intention is not to minimize Diana’s real pain, or to sugarcoat your own personal tragedy. It is absolutely appropriate to desire that God use these circumstances for good. My encouragement is to broaden your perspective of how God may be inviting you to use your personal healing process and the comfort you’ve received, as training that equips you to extend relief toward others as they work through their brokenness.