An unspoken belief among many Christians is that a dedicated follower of Christ will be immune to misfortune.Tragically, the promulgators of the health, wealth and prosperity gospel misunderstand the Christian life. Faith in Jesus does not guarantee a life free of suffering.
"Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you," wrote Peter (1 Peter 4:12).
A trouble-free interpretation of the Bible garbles the truth. That's not how life works. True, Jesus promised that God would help the faithful attain their needs (Matthew 6:25-33). Paul points out that "in all things God works for the good of those who love him" (Romans 8:28).
But these are not ironclad promises that once people become children of God they will no longer have troubles in life. The Bible has never promised Christians an easy time. A Christian must "take up his cross" (Luke 9:23) and follow Christ.
Jesus told his disciples they would be hated and persecuted for their beliefs (Matthew 10:17-31). Disciples could expect physical blessings, but with trials (Mark 10:29-30).
The apostles echoed Jesus' teaching. James wrote of Christians who were facing "trials of many kinds" (James 1:2). Peter wrote to the church, saying, "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials" (1 Peter 1:6).
Of course, it's not the trial itself that brings joy. Joy comes in knowing that trials provide opportunities for spiritual enrichment. Trials and suffering can develop spiritual perseverance (James 1:2-4). Peter says that through trials godly faith also "may be proved genuine" (1 Peter 1:7). God learns if we truly love him through our human suffering (Genesis 22:1-12).
Suffering teaches us to look beyond this life — to our true purpose — to God's gift of eternal life (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). We learn to distinguish between this imperfect, temporary existence and eternal life. For this reason, Paul said "our present sufferings not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18).
Those who have faith in Jesus pierce through and beyond their sufferings to the above — to God. Their faith is strengthened precisely because it has been pounded and refined by suffering.