Live long enough and you will suffer. In this life, the only way to avoid suffering is to die. Unfortunately, most of us don’t give focused thought to evil and suffering until we experience them. This forces us to formulate perspective on the fly, at a time when our thinking is muddled and we’re exhausted and consumed by pressing issues. Those of you who have “been there” will attest that it’s far better to think through suffering in advance.
That’s why I’ve written a lot on this subject, in my big book If God Is Good, the medium sized devotional 90 Days of God’s Goodness, the small The Goodness of God, and the booklet If God Is Good, Why Do We Hurt?
Having given the subject a lot of thought and effort, I loved this article from Jason Helveston, an elder for teaching and vision at a church in Chicago and the author of Tell Me Everything: How Jesus Told Me His Story. —Randy Alcorn
Life is hard.
No matter who we are, we all experience difficulty. To be sure, the degree of life’s severity differs from person to person. As I write this, many around the world are experiencing heartbreaking realities.
In every season of our lives, in every place of our existence, there is tension and conflict. From the wrenching reality of losing loved ones to silly inconveniences like warm drinks getting cold and cold drinks getting warm, life is hard.
What’s more, when the difficulties of life show up we crave explanation. We cannot help but search for meaning in the face of tragedy and pain. This inclination is part of what makes us, us. When we can’t find answers we often come up with our own. And, if you’re like me, your answer is often not a good one. Consequently, our bad answers cause us to respond to pain in ways that can cause more pain to ourselves and others.
In an attempt to alleviate the complication of grief and find deeper meaning in our hardships here are four reasons life is hard, plus specific ways we can respond to our difficulties.
1. Life is hard because the world is broken.
The Christian story begins with the Creator creating everything (Genesis 1:1). Then creation rejects the Creator. And this rejection fractured the entirety of creation (Genesis 3:14–19). As a result, nothing is as it should be and life is made more difficult. We are all to blame for this brokenness because we have all rejected God and his goodness. So we each have a responsibility to confess our part in our fallen world and work together to seek the welfare of it, making our surroundings more reflective of God’s initial intentions.
God’s holistic restoration plan includes us! The good news is that God desires for us to join him now in making his plans for restoration, unity, and peace a reality (Colossians 1:15–23). Jesus suffered for his suffering world so that we would find holistic renewal in him, a renewal that will be completed when Jesus brings heaven and earth fully together in the age to come (Revelation 21:4).
Life is hard because the world is broken, but Jesus is restoring all things from the brokenness of the world by his power and through his people.
2. Life is hard because of you and me.
Sometimes our lives are hard because we are sinners (Romans 3:23). We make bad decisions — accidentally and willfully — and these choices make our lives a lot harder. Often, life is hard because we not only do evil things, but then don’t respond well when the consequences come (Proverbs 19:3). Life is not hard because of us all the time, but it is a lot more of the time than we care to admit.
No matter the sin it is vital that we do not simply say, “This is just who I am,” and fail to pursue revision. No. In this case we must confess sin and repent. That was the initial call to action of both John the Baptizer and Jesus (Mark 1:4, 14–15). Only on the other side of confession, repentance, and belief will the hardness of our sin be eased in Christ. In him we find true wisdom, righteousness, and redemption from our sin (1 Corinthians 1:30–31).
Life is hard because of you and me, but Jesus graciously forgives us when we confess that our sin has dishonored him and made life complicated and difficult (1 John 1:9).
3. Life is hard because of someone else.
Sometimes life is hard — not because the world is broken nor because we personally sinned — but because others sin against us. This is the story of Job (Job 2:7). This is the story of the man who was left for dead in the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25). This is the story of Jesus (Luke 23:34).
Jesus responded to the great need of humanity by allowing himself to take the position of a victim and bearing the sins and folly of the entire human race (Isaiah 53:5). Therefore, when we are victimized, we should remember that Jesus not only can identify with us in our unjust treatment. Since he put shame to shame on the cross, we also find power and cleansing in him.
Life is hard because of others. In love Jesus washes and cleans us when the sins of others have harmed us (1 John 1:7).
4. Life is hard because God is good.
Many of life’s difficulties are by design.
In his kindness, God has intentionally shaped the world in such a way that effort would be required to accomplish significant change, progress, and reward (2 Timothy 2:6). From the beginning, Adam is given a job to work the ground (Genesis 2:15) and to cultivate and shape creation. In other words, work showed up in the beginning. When embraced as a gift from God, work makes us stronger, more collaborative, smarter, more skilled, and so on.
In fact, there can be great joy in this aspect of the hardness of life because it matures us (James 1:2–4). Paul even writes that we should do whatever work we do as worship to the Lord and from the very center of who we are (Colossians 3:23). And so we should never pray away this type of difficulty; rather, we should embrace it, discern its purpose, look to Jesus, and pray to be made more like him through it all. Through many of life’s difficulties we are made more like Jesus. “We who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’s sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:11).
Life is hard because God is good. Jesus uses these hard things in life to make us strong and more like him. Praise God he does.
Here’s the point: life is hard, but there is always hope.
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. (2 Corinthians 4:8–10)
Life is hard for many reasons, but through it all we are being made more into the image of God. Jesus is greater than every hardship; he is victorious over every pain. All of life’s tragedies, sorrows, and iniquities should ultimately lift our gaze to the day when the sinful difficulties of life will be taken away and the formative tensions of life will only and fully point us toward the goodness and glory of Jesus. In other words, we should long for the day when our craving for meaning will be fully and finally satisfied in God himself.
This article originally appeared on Desiring God and is used with permission of the author.