In this [living hope] you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7)
I’m no Job. The words I used to sing so blithely, with such theoretical appreciation of their beauty, such bland conviction that I’d sing them whatever came – “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21)1 – don’t, apparently, spring to my lips when suffering comes. My lips are sealed, silent.
And that’s the first thing suffering teaches me about myself: my faith is weaker than I knew. I am riddled with doubt. I am shot through with unbelief. My trust in God is fragile.
When I was young, I thought of myself as strong. I would never lose my faith! I would never stumble! My obedience was sure, my faith certain. Life, at times, has felt like a successive stripping away of self-delusion. Tempt me, and I am prone to habitual sin. Test me, and I am prone to anger. Try me, and I am prone to unbelief.
Suffering brings me low, which is exactly where I need to be:
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God,
you will not despise. (Psalm 51:17)
Suffering undoes me. It unravels the pride and self-reliance that were woven together with my faith. What’s left is alarmingly slender, so it’s just as well that it’s God, not me, who holds me here. Faith hangs by a thread; yet it holds, tested and true, stronger than spider silk, for the One to whom it clings is faithful. When I am weak, God proves to be strong; and, seeing this, my faith grows stronger.
Suffering refines my faith. It becomes more resilient, less dependent on circumstances. I come one step closer to believing in God as he really is, not as I want him to be. I long for heaven, and the ties that bind me to this earth are loosened.
It’s true: suffering both tests and refines my faith. I’ll write more about the second of these in the weeks to come.
- The song being Matt Redman’s Blessed be the name of the Lord. ↩