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God’s Purpose in Our Suffering

Rev. Glen J. Clary

Christians on earth are living in exile, outside of their homeland. Our true homeland is in heaven. As long as we are on earth, we are exiles from our homeland living "in the dispersion" (James 1:1; cf. 1 Pet 1:1). We are strangers in a strange land (cf. Ex 2:22; 1 Pet 2:11). The earth is a foreign land to us because our citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20). The Apostle Peter refers to Christians on earth as sojourners and exiles (1 Pet 2:11). Peter also calls the present age the time of our exile (1 Pet 1:17). At the end of this present age, however, our Lord Jesus Christ will return and receive us to himself (John 14:3). He will translate us from the realm of earth to the realm of heaven, and we will no longer be sojourners living in exile in a foreign land.

For the church, then, there are two states of affairs: the state of dispersion (the present state) and the state of perfection (the future and final state). The present state is a time of exile and testing. In the present age, our faith is being tested by means of trials. The purpose of that testing is to produce in us the steadfastness needed to persevere during the time of our exile (cf. James 1:3). The steadfastness produced by testing will yield a perfect work (James 1:4), which is nothing less than our being brought into a state of perfection at the end of this age when we are translated from the land of exile to our permanent homeland.

Hence, the purpose of the trials that we face in the present is, in the words of James, to make us perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:4). And for that reason, we should count it all joy when you meet trials of various kinds (James 1:2). Our present suffering is ordered to and leads to our future perfection. The light momentary afflictions that we presently endure are preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Cor 4:17). 

Whenever we suffer afflictions in this present age, we are suffering with Christ in order that we may also be glorified with him (Rom 8:17). Paul said, I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us when Christ returns at the end of the age (Rom 8:18). That is what led Paul to say that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28).

God's purpose is to fully conform us to the image of the risen and ascended Christ. As James put it, God's purpose is to make us perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:4). God uses the trials of this present age to prepare us for our translation into that state of perfection, the state of glory. Our suffering in union with Christ is ordered to and leads to our glorification in union with him. It is conforming us to the image of Christ in his suffering and glory. That is the purpose of the various trials that we encounter in the present age during our sojourn on earth while we are living in the dispersion. For that reason, we can count it all joy when we meet those trials.

This present age of testing and suffering is temporary, and it is necessary to make us perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. The trials that we face in the present age are preparing us for the day when our earthly mode of existence as strangers and exiles living in the dispersion will come to an end, and we shall be translated to our permanent homeland in heaven. 

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