This article was written by BCCand published by
I’ve been counseling at my church since 2004, and the cases I have now are very challenging. So much suffering. So much sadness. So many questions. So little hope.
Suffering is rarely a neutral event. Counselees have perceptions, experiences, assumptions, and expectations that influence how they interpret and experience their suffering. To better understand my counselee’s situation and her perception of it, I want to ask her thoughtful questions:
- What was her home life like growing up?
- Have there been any major events that have influenced (or are currently influencing) her suffering?
- What does she believe about the character of God?
- Does she find it hard or easy to trust God? Why?
- Where does she think God is in the midst of her suffering/hardships?
- In what situations has she seen the grace of God help her in her time of need?
- What is her ultimate goal in life?
I want to gather enough information to discern what’s going on and what heart issues need to be addressed. As we unpack what’s going on, I will assure my counselee that the truth of God’s Word will bring light and hope to her situation.
My counselee has questions too. I may not be able to answer all of her questions, but I would like to help her develop a biblical perspective on the questions she’s wrestling with. Here are some typical questions counselees have and a biblical perspective I could give her.
1. Why am I going through this? What is God’s purpose in allowing it?
I think everyone wants to know why. God has good purposes for allowing us to go through trials. God’s Word tells us that He uses suffering to help us grow in perseverance and spiritual maturity (James 1:2-4). He’s allowing us to share in the fellowship of Jesus’ suffering so that we will draw near to Him (Phil. 3:10-11).
We suffer grief in all kinds of trials because trials refine our faith and prove our faith genuine. The result is praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Pet. 1:3-9). God wants us to develop spiritual muscles and not be blown over by the winds of adversity. He may be allowing difficulties because He disciplines those He loves so that they may share in His holiness. God’s discipline certainly doesn’t seem pleasant at the time, but it results in us sharing in His holiness (Heb. 12:5-11).
Rather than thinking of trials as bad or punishment or God being unfair, we’re told in Scripture that trials are to be considered joy because of what they produce: perseverance. Perseverance leads to spiritual maturity and greater service to God. When we need help viewing trials from God’s perspective, He has promised wisdom to those who ask for it in faith (James 1:2-8). Trials are working in us the character of Christ (Rom. 5:1-5).
2. Is God punishing me? Am I reaping the consequences of sin?
Some difficulties result from our own sin and living to fulfill the cravings of the flesh. When that is the situation, confession and repentance are in order. We should take the sowing and reaping principles in Galatians 6 to heart. Sometimes we suffer because we live in a fallen world, but sometimes our suffering isn’t a result of our sin. Our suffering could be the result of someone else’s sin against us. In that case, we need to focus on our response to the suffering, believing and depending on God’s grace to get us through it. Our goal in life is to please God and live for Him who died for us (2 Cor. 5:9, 10, 15). I want to help my counselee choose to do the right thing so she can honor the Lord Jesus Christ and bring Him glory. She can take great hope in the promises of God, especially that He will work all things, even trials and sufferings, for her good and His glory, that He will supply what she needs, and that nothing can separate her from His love (Rom. 8:28-39).
3. Where can I find help and hope?
God wants her to look to Him for comfort and depend on His grace in times of need. Our God is the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. He will comfort her in times of suffering (2 Cor. 1:3-11). Her hope is to be in Jesus Christ. Jesus willingly went through pain and suffering to become her merciful and faithful High Priest. He understands what she’s going through and offers His mercy and grace in times of need (Heb. 2:17-18; 4:16).
4. What should be my perception of suffering? How should I think about suffering?
Our perception is our reality. So, if our perceptions are not right, our beliefs of reality won’t be right either. If a counselee was abused by men in her past, her perception might be that all men are unsafe and abusive. So, her (perceived) reality is that all men are bad and should be avoided to protect herself. Her goal in life is to protect herself and to be safe. That goal influences how she views life and conducts herself. Her life will revolve around protection and safety. But as Christians, our lives are to revolve around pleasing, glorifying, and honoring Christ, even in the face of deep suffering. God has His reasons for allowing us to go through suffering, and sometimes He doesn’t reveal those reasons to us. He’s asking us to walk by faith and not lean on our own understanding. By studying Isaiah 53 together, I hope to help her understand how Jesus suffered for her and what His suffering accomplished. When we suffer, Jesus is our example to emulate. He suffered at the hands of ungodly men, and at times we will also. It’s important to keep our hope focused on God, the One who can be trusted in times of suffering. Our suffering is an opportunity to be a living testimony to the grace of God in Christ (1 Pet. 2:21-23).
Suffering is never easy, and for some of our counselees, it’s unknown territory. Our counselees will be helped as we walk with them through their pain and point them to the One who knows and cares. Hopefully, she will one day be able to say, as Job did, “But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).