Study Guide: Purpose Driven Suffering

Sunday January 3, 2021 | Greg Boyd

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

God is at work in all things—even in times of great suffering—to bring about his purposes. Those who are called according to his purpose will join in and cooperate with God’s work, allowing the Spirit to form them to live into God’s new work.

Extended Summary:

God is always working to bring good out of all situations, not actually causing suffering for a purpose, but he brings a purpose to our suffering. This is the point of the focus scripture above. Paul was not saying that God causes all things for the good, but that “in” all things, whether they are brought about by God, people, the devil, chance or an unfathomably complex combination of all of the above, God is at work for the good of those who love him.

The word for “works” in this passage is “synergeo” which basically means something like “works with.” This means that God works with us to bring about the good. God brings God’s ergos alongside our ergos to create a synergos (synergy) that brings good out of any circumstance. This is why Paul specified that God is working in all things for the good for those who are called according to God’s purposes. It’s not that God gives preferential treatment to those who submit to him. However, those who have accepted this call are the ones who are partnering with God in bringing about a good work. The good that God wants to accomplish in every situation, whether it’s a good situation or an absolute horrendous situation, requires our cooperation, our discernment and our willingness to flow with his Spirit. 

In Romans 5, Paul worked this out from a different angle. There he wrote about rejoicing in sufferings. The glory that is set ahead is so great that it renders the sufferings of this present world insignificant. Paul was not a sadist who delighted in pain, but he saw the good that God can bring out of suffering, producing endurance and a resolute character. As your resolute character is solidified, it resonates with the Holy Spirit in us and builds hope that does not disappoint. For a believer who knows that God is working in all things for the better, we can partner with God in a way that turns all suffering to our advantage.

We are in a season of great struggle. Many long to go back to the old way of following God and doing church. But God never moves backward. If we’re cooperating with God, even the nastiest aspects of our present experience can move us in the direction of the future that God has for us. If your goal is to just get back to your old “normal,” then you’ll tend to just endure the unpleasantness of this wilderness experience. You won’t look to discern and to partner with God in bringing about a new good thing.

This is no time to coast, to wait until the storm blows over. This time, as unpleasant as it is, is when God does his best work. We are called to intentionally cooperate with God, to bring our energy alongside his in order to move forward toward the glory of the Promised Land. God wants to use this COVID wilderness to grow us, transform us, equip us, enlighten us, radicalize us, free us from things that bind and entrap us, and open our eyes to new possibilities and thinking. It may involve some suffering, but rejoice in that suffering, for it will build a solid Kingdom character that moves you toward the glory that renders all suffering insignificant.

Reflection Questions: