One of our directors recently went to Turkey to check on our partners who have been affected by the terrible earthquake there. Let me say from personal experience, when you see devastation like what they are currently living in, the overwhelming human loss and suffering, there are images and memories that will never leave you.

You hardly need me to tell you that there is much suffering in the world, though. Everyone has been touched by anguish in some way. Whole books have been written on this single topic. It would be impossible to touch on every aspect of such a complex subject, but I wanted to reflect for a moment on those who suffer because of circumstances outside their control. Their pain doesn’t come as the consequences of their own sin or from others sinning against them; it’s simply from living in a fallen world.

Like Jesus’ disciples, though, we can be tempted to offer simple answers for pain. Like them, we ask, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” I believe God’s response to us is the same as it was to his disciples. “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:2-3, ESV). Sometimes we can suffer in ways that have nothing to do with our sins, like with natural disasters; but God still has a purpose for pain.

This is why Peter later wrote, “In this 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 honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7).

Pain can rock us to our core. It can prompt us to harden our hearts to protect ourselves. Sometimes, it can shake us to the point of jettisoning our faith. Let nothing I say trivialize the magnitude of suffering.

However, suffering is never neutral. It will either draw us closer to God or harden us to his voice. As Charles Spurgeon said, “The same sun which melts wax hardens clay.” We can suffer well if we invite Christ into our pain and lives.