I am reading an excellent book, The Trouble of Mind and the Disease of Melancholy, by Timothy Rogers, an early 18th century Puritan minister. This book, as the title suggests, explores the topic of depression and suffering from a Christian perspective. I have found Rogers’ insights very valuable and thought-provoking. So I thought I would share with you a part of his work. He dedicates a chapter to the question: “Why does God allow His servants to be under long afflictions, spiritual distress and anguish?” He provides nine reasons … here they are (my paraphrase):
- For the good of the universe … God does nothing in vain … everything is for the good of the whole, even if we don’t understand.
- So that others would fear sinning and experiencing the consequences of sin. By seeing someone “undone and miserable”, we ought to strive to do those things that would not put us in the same place. Rogers does not associate a person’s suffering as always a direct consequence of that person’s sin (though sometimes this is the case), but simply that human misery would not be around if it weren’t for sin. So as much as it depends on us, we ought to avoid sin – it generates bad consequences!
- To keep us from trusting in the things of this world for our security.
- To show us how small our own strength is, how frail we are, how much we need a strong Savior!
- To stir up our soul, that we might see our corruption and the fact that our soul, mind, heart have all been muddied. Basically, suffering and distress can be a reminder of how imperfect we are – it can cause us to look at our soul honestly and see ourselves for what we truly are and how desperately we need Christ.
- That we would seriously and with purpose think on Christ, that our souls would learn to cry out: “Save me LORD!” When things are all going well, we often think about Jesus less.
- That we might put a high value on the Scriptures, that we might search them fervently to find the promises of relief, the hope of eternal life, the comfort of the Gospel to help us in our difficulties. Suffering takes us away from the practice of using the Scriptures as a book of wisdom for living (e.g., how to have a better marriage, financial security, raise children, etc…) to a book that MUST be read, because in God’s Word alone there is hope.
- That we might admire His grace. The suffering person more easily gives up the allusion that salvation is by good works as he / she often finds it difficult just to “get through the day”.
- That we might learn to be merciful and helpful to others who are in the same condition. We live in a world that is uncomfortable with suffering and just wants everything to “get back to normal”. Christians can hurt other Christians by insisting they simply “get over” their difficulties. But a Christian who has experienced difficulty can better help others who are experiencing the same.
I hope these are helpful to you, especially if you are currently in distress or suffering in some way. What I like is that none of these suggest that there is an easy fix or that tomorrow will necessarily be a brighter day. All of them point us to the fact that the Lord is with us, even if we feel He is distant, and that there really is hope in Christ alone. May you seek Him in your difficulty, may you grow to hold onto His Word, and may we all seek to help one another as we walk through this life together as God’s people.