I want to talk about suffering. There is this thing called the Prosperity Gospel, which is telling people that if they are successful, it means God has blessed their lives, and that if they're not successful, it means God has cursed them. Faith involves being successful, and if we are not successful, we are not really Christians. Unless we are successful monetarily, in our relationships, in our jobs--if things are going our way, that means God is good and has blessed us, and we have a relationship with him. But if we are not prosperous, something's wrong. We're not walking the Christian life.
This flies in the face of everything that is in the Gospel, in the New Testament. We as Christians face trials: trials are an important part of the Christian life, but unlike those of someone who doesn't believe. Trials and suffering for someone who does not believe is the wrath of God upon them, but trials and suffering, which still exist for the Christian--they have a purpose. For the unbeliever, trials and suffering have no purpose: it is pure wrath, because they are living outside of God's love. They are living outside of God's protection and the wrath of God penetrates them.
People ask, "why is it that God has to protect people from himself?" Well, because God is the life force behind the universe: he sustains everything. That means we are running on the fuel of God. Everything exists because of God. Everything is sustained because of God. We are running on God. Well, God is purely good, and when we who are evil are running with good fuel in us, there's pain. We are feeling the wrath of God. We're feeling the wrath of a good God who can't help but burn up that which is evil, so as humans outside of the will of God, outside of God's life, as nonbelievers, those people feel the wrath of a good God burning up their wicked lives. It's painful; it's suffering; it hurts.
Christians also feel suffering and pain, but it has purpose. We are protected by God, but with suffering and pain. As it says here in first Peter 4:1, suffering helps us to cease from sinning. The suffering that we endure is a different kind of suffering than the wrath of God, because the blood of Christ protects us from the wrath of God, but we still suffer, because it is a testing ground, sanctifying us. Suffering for the Christian has purpose. We are sanctified, we sin less and less. It is very hard to sin, when one is suffering. Think of the times when you suffered the most. Think of the times when you were in pain, when you were in sickness, when you were in despair, when you were anxious about things happening in your life or about a future event. Were you interested in sinning? Were you interested in fulfilling your bodily lusts? Were you interested in hating? Did you hate someone in your illness? Did you hate? Did you murder in your heart? Did you lust after someone, when you were suffering? No! Suffering helps us to cease from sinning.
Jesus Christ suffered. He suffered on the cross. He never sinned, and yet he took that suffering on himself, so that we could live and have eternal life. He took the suffering of our sins and suffering that we deserve from sinning. He took in on himself, and he imputes his righteousness to us. We still sin, we still backslide, but this suffering that comes with trials, that comes with being a Christian in this world, we must consider it joy, because it is God working on us. It is God strengthening us. It is God making us stronger, so that we can survive another day and fulfill his will on Earth.