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The Purpose of Problems

October 23, 2009

There is a mystery to suffering. But the word “mystery” in the Christian tradition does not refer to something wholly shrouded in darkness and completely unintelligible. Rather “mystery” refers to something which is partially revealed, but much of which lies hidden from plain sight. Hence, we cannot fully understand the mystery of human suffering and problems but God does give us some insights. An old Gospel Hymn says,

  • Trials dark on every hand
  • And we cannot understand
  • All the ways that God will lead us to that Blessed Promised Land
  • But he guides us with his eye
  • And we follow till be die
  • And we’ll understand it better by and by.

At times when we feel overwhelmed it helps to step back and ponder the purpose of problems. What follows is just such a pondering  that I found years ago and adapted for one of my sermons.

Here are five ways God wants to use the problems in your life:

  1. God uses problems to DIRECT us. Sometimes God must light a fire under you to get you moving. Problems often point us in a new directions and motivate us to change. Is God trying to get your attention? “Sometimes it takes a painful situation to make us change our ways,”  Proverbs 20:30….Blows and wounds cleanse away evil, and beatings purge the inner most being. Another old gospel song speaks of the need of suffering to keep us focused on God:  Now the way may not be too easy. But you never said it would be. Cause when our way gets a little too easy, you know we tend to stray from thee. Sad but true, God sometimes needs to use problems to direct our steps to him.
  2. God uses problems to INSPECT us. People are like tea bags.. if you want to know what’s inside them, just drop them into hot water! Has God ever tested your faith with a problem? What do problems reveal about you? ” Our problems have a way of helping to see what we’re really made of. I have discovered many strengths I never knew I had through trials and testings. There is a test in every testimony and trials have a way of purifying and strengthening our faith as well as inspecting our faith to see whether it is really genuine.  1 Peter 1:6 says, In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These trials are only to test your faith, to see whether or not it is strong and pure.
  3. God uses problems to CORRECT us. Some lessons we learn only through pain and failure. It’s likely that as a child your parents told you not to touch a hot stove. But you probably learned by being burned. Sometimes we only learn the value of something … health, money, a relationship by losing it. Scripture says in Psalm 119:71-72………It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees and also in Psalm 119:67 Before I was afflicted, I strayed. But now I keep you word.
  4. God uses problems to PROTECT us. A problem can be a blessing in disguise if it prevents you from being harmed by something more serious. A man was fired for refusing to do something unethical that his boss had asked him to do. His unemployment was a problem-but it saved him from being convicted and sent to prison a year later when management’s actions were eventually discovered. Scripture says in Genesis 50:20 as Joseph speaks to his brothers…You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
  5. God uses problems to PERFECT us. Problems, when responded to correctly, are character builders. God is far more interested in your character than your comfort. Romans 5:3 says We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us they help us learn to be patient. 4And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady. And 1 Peter 1:7  says You are being tested as fire tests gold and purifies it and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold; so if your faith remains strong after being tried in the fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day of his return.

This reflection does not fully explain or solve the mystery of suffering. It only opens a little window where we see a little. For now we trust in God’s providence and accept that he allows difficulties for our good. Romans 8:28  says “All things work together for good to those who love the Lord and are called according to his purpose.”  Notice, “all things” not just the good things. In the end all is gift. I know, it may not feel that way now, but we’ll understand it better by and by.

Comments (9)

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  1. TAmi Lloyd says:

    /This was absolutely what I needed to read today. I have been suffering and my grandson. At times it has been hard to see the hand of God but I do know that through it we have both been offered some protection. Praise the Lord that He sees us through these times of suffering.

  2. Chris says:

    A very helpful summary of the importance of the mystery of suffering. Thank you very much!!

  3. anon says:

    A fable about suffering-

    A beautiful bamboo tree stood in its Master’s garden. The Master came to admire it every day, and the tree was happy. One day, the Master told the tree it was needed for a special purpose and would be cut down.
    The bamboo tree was upset. But, it knew the Master wanted him for some other purpose, and it said, “Take me, cut me down and use me as you will.”

    The master cut it down, cut off its long branches and beautiful leaves, cut it in half and then hollowed it out. Then he laid the tall tree half on the ground and half in a stream. Water ran through the bamboo tree’s hollowed out center to the rice fields.

    When the harvest time came, the fields were amazing, and the harvest was abundant and fed many people.
    The bamboo tree saw all of this and grew happy again. In the garden, the bamboo tree was beautiful and glorious. In its brokenness, it became even more glorious as a source of life for others.

  4. Jon Zimmer says:

    This puts many things in perspective. Thank you, Fr. Pope.

  5. Fr. Dac Tran,OFM says:

    Thank you, Mgsr. Pope, for an inspiring reflection.
    You really speak to the challenging ministry I’m in.
    Please pray for me.

  6. Katherine G ERT says:

    Thank you for such an inspiring post. I am going through a rough time right now, and I am trying to stay close to the church and to God. But sometimes I feel very alone. There are days I view my situation as a blessing so I can help others….and days that I see it as a curse. Thank you for posting such interesting and thought-provoking stuff on here, reading it really helps me get through some days, more than you could know.

  7. No Man is an Island says:

    Thank you, Mgsr. Pope. This reflection helped re-enforced my faith. It is thru my sufferings that I make a conscious effort to lift my heart & mind to Christ and be in commune with God. If I may add to it, when I decided to follow Christ, I joined in with His suffering in its redemptive value and offer my sufferings to help with the salvation of sinners that exist in our world, in our own family & in our community. As Christ suffered and died on the cross to save mankind from eternal damnation and opened the gates of heaven for us, we too partake in that divine purpose in our sufferings. I know I could not manage my sufferings alone, and so I ask God our Lord Jesus Christ to help me carry my cross with me. In humility I confess my human weakness, that only with God, will I survive and succeed in this world. Thank you so much, and for those who suffer, you are not alone… Christ is with you. I will keep you in my prayers.