Pain and suffering, whether physical or emotional, is so unpleasant that it’s difficult to understand how God can command us to count it all joy under various kinds of trials. (Ja 1:2) Does God expect us to disconnect from reality and not feel the normal, healthy emotional response that trauma typically evokes in our lives?
No, it isn’t actually the pain and suffering itself that God wants us to glory in; we’re to rejoice in the midst of our suffering, confident that God will produce patience in us (Ja 1:3): the ability to endure difficulty without losing hope.
If we value patience, and God works patience in each of us through suffering (He 12:6), then we can rejoice in the outcome of godly suffering. It’s through suffering that God matures and completes us; it’s necessary for our growth in godliness. (He 12:11b)
Patience seems to be the primary goal in suffering: it’s the tendency or ability to experience distress in hope: the confident expectation that God is working it all out for our good (Ro 8:28) and for His glory. (1Pe 1:7)
Patient endurance of suffering produces a wealth of practical, life experience with the faithfulness of God, as we see how He works so brilliantly through chaos and pain to accomplish His purposes. And such experience produces hope (Ro 5:3), the knowledge that God will ultimately be wondrously glorified through whatever He allows. (Re 15:4)
And such hope makes us unashamed in our suffering, as the love of God shines forth from us by the Holy Spirit. (Ro 5:5) It is in the midst of suffering that our love for God and others shines most brightly, when it’s clear that we aren’t seeking God out of selfishness, but even when it hurts, even in persecution. We’ve nothing to lose and everything to gain by rejoicing in God and knowing He’s at work; we abound in hope through the power of God in the midst of our suffering, knowing God does all things well.
So, it’s appropriate to be in heaviness as we’re suffering (1Pe 1:7), to weep and grieve and struggle (He 12:11a) – this is perfectly healthy. (Ro 12:15) But this sorrow and heaviness should not be the whole of our experience; we should not suffer like the world does, without hope. (1Th 4:13) We must also look beyond our suffering in faith, rejoicing in what God will eventually accomplish in and through our suffering. (1Pe 1:7)
We can be thankful in our suffering (1Th 5:18), and also for our suffering (Ep 5:20), knowing there’s a glorious purpose in everything God allows. (Ep 1:11)