Fashioning you into the image of God

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. (Romans 8:28–29)
 
If there is no God, then suffering has no ultimate meaning, since we all will eventually die and cease to exist. But even with a belief in God, suffering can feel meaningless, as we wonder what possible good can come out of terrorist attacks, crippling depression, mental illness, or the death of a child. There are many reasons the Bible gives for why suffering exists, chiefly that we live in a fallen world that is the product of humanity’s rebellion against God. But God is still sovereign over it all, always working even the worst events in the world for His ultimate good purposes (Romans 8:28), and so we trust that there will be meaning in the suffering. Remember John 9:2-3, where Jesus’ disciples see a blind man and ask him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus replies, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”
 
Jesus’ words in John 9 call to mind a quote I read in Joni Eareckson Tada’s “When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty.” Joni Eareckson Tada is uniquely qualified to address the question of suffering, in that she became a quadriplegic as a teenager upon diving into a shallow pool of water:
 
Suffering fashions us into a “holy and blameless” image of Christ (Ephesians 1: 4), much like a figure sculpted out of marble. An artist in Florence, Italy once asked the great Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo what he saw when he approached a huge block of marble. “I see a beautiful form trapped inside,” he replied, “and it is simply my responsibility to take my mallet and chisel and chip away until the figure is set free.” The beautiful form, the visible expression of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” is inside Christians like a possibility, a potential. The idea is there, and God uses affliction like a hammer and chisel, chipping and cutting to reveal his image in you. God chooses as his model his Son, Jesus Christ, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son” (Romans 8: 29).

Over and over again in the Bible, it is clear that God matures and strengthens us not primarily through painless mountaintop experiences, but through painful suffering. Images like the fiery furnace, the refiner’s fire, and the potter and the clay, remind us that beauty is forged through affliction. And like Joni Eareckson Tada put it, “the beautiful form, the visible expression of ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’” is inside of you, “and God uses affliction like a hammer and chisel, chipping and cutting to reveal his image in you.”
 
I do not know what your particular suffering is. But I want to remind you of the truth that God loves you. He is not the author of suffering, but He never wastes it, using it instead for our sanctification and for the salvation and comfort of others, as our suffering humbles us and equips us to minister to others. And the ultimate hope we have is not only that our suffering is never meaningless, but that this is not the end of the story. One day, suffering will be no more and we will experience eternal joy and peace for our grieving and weary souls forever and ever.

So take heart, and trust in the Lord, your good and loving Father. Remember Jesus Christ, suffering and dying for you, so that you could have eternal life and hope for today. Lean on the Holy Spirit, God in you, pointing you to the truth and guaranteeing the future joy that will one day be yours. And keep on walking through your trials.

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