Why does God allow Christians to reach a breaking point?
You may have experienced moments when pain, whether internal or external, has been a pressing reality. It causes us to be “dreadfully exhausted, ” as my friend would say. A grimness pervades the term, a grimness some of us have come to know.
Although our troubles are not of the same intensity and duration, we have them. Our troubles are real. Suffering is real.
Perhaps you are suffering from illness? Are the family’s finances falling apart? Maybe some of you have lost loved ones. Maybe work has been a nightmare. There are those with crushed dreams. And sometimes, there are trials you cannot even begin to articulate.
So, the question remains: How do we, as Christians, make sense of our pain?
LEWIS ON TRUTHS IN TORTURE
“Nothing less will shake a man—or at any rate a man like me—out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself.” (C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed)
Torture. I like what Clive did there. Torture is an absolutely dreadful experience, even just reading the word feels painful. Lewis is not just flaunting his vocabulary. Each word carries a meaning he saw was best. Christians who frequently read the Bible and listen to sermons sometimes become overfamiliar with church jargon. “Suffering,” “trials,” or “afflictions,” we tend to use them lightly. They become so normal that we forget the weight of these words.
With “torture,” things made sense. I was not overfamiliar with the word, I have not seen it enough to take it lightly. Torture, this willful infliction of pain and dread upon someone, is real. God allows it.
“Why?” we often ask.
Lewis made it clear, didn’t he? Torture brings out the truth, both the good and the bad. When we are “knocked silly,” we come to our senses. Beliefs and promises we thought we believed are challenged. Suddenly, we aren’t sitting on the sidelines when we need to believe that God is in control or that Christ is enough when all seems lost. Our eyes are opened to the truth—our faith, as it turns out, is not as strong as we thought it to be. We are faced with the reality of our wretchedness and unbelief.
Why does God allow torture to happen in the lives of believers? The first reason: God uses suffering for us to know experientially our weaknesses and sins.
But it does not end here.
LUTHER ON TRIBULATION’S VALUE
We could say that many truths are forced into the spotlight by suffering. First, as I have mentioned, is the darkness of our souls. Second, and the thing we may forget, is the light of God’s grace. The second truth in torture is this: God’s grace shines all the more brightly in light of our present darkness.
Martin Luther, the great reformer, once said:
“I want you to know how to study theology in the right way. I have practiced this method myself….Here you will find three rules They are frequently proposed throughout Psalm  and thus: Oratio, meditatio, and tentatio (prayer, meditation, and tribulation).” (Martin Luther as quoted by John Piper, 21 Servants of Sovereign Joy)
This man understood that tribulations make us better Christians. We cannot fully grasp the truths in the Bible without it. Luther sees tribulations as the final step in his Bible study. Persevering through affliction helps us understand God’s word better. It makes us see that it is in our moments of weakness where God works.
Luther had to deal with dying children, sickness, battles with the flesh, and physical threats. The man is no stranger to pain. Physical pain was present. And being an introspective man, he knew well the internal troubles of man. But through his torture, he was brought closer to God—the true source of satisfaction and peace.
PAIN IN GOD’S DISCIPLINE
The third truth we must come to realize is this: God disciplines his sons and daughters out of love.
“And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Hebrews 12:5-6 ESV)
When God allows us to break, he is treating us as sons and daughters. Our identity and security are still intact. When a believer suffers, he or she may be under the discipline of God. And we can push through because even if the enemy meant the afflictions for evil, God meant it for our good.
“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it “(Hebrews 12:11 ESV). The word used for “painful” may also be translated as “causing grief.” Truth be told, God’s discipline is not easy. It burdens the heart, sometimes to the point of excruciating pain. It is not “pleasant” or “causing gladness.” In those times of trials, the world around us may seem dark. However, know that, in the end, God grants us a peace we could never have known otherwise—a righteous fruit we would not have known in any other way.
CHARACTER FORGED IN THE ANVIL OF PAIN
Lastly, while there may be other fruits from suffering, none would be more fleshed out than humility. Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3 ESV). Simply put, deep and indomitable joy belongs to those who know that they are spiritually destitute.
Miserable sinners are attracted to grace because in their filth nothing else will save them. Weak men know experientially their own lack. Suffering allows us to see ourselves as weak and destitute. Thus, it is those miserable and weak men that know more of God’s “sovereign joy.” We are humbled as God molds our hearts in the anvil of pain.
On the road to this realization, we lose certain things. We perhaps lose our capability to see ourselves as enough. We may perhaps see that even our most full-proof plan gets broken. Maybe we lose a part of ourselves. Maybe we lose someone. The common element is that we lose something we value, something we love.
But the trials that take from us are the avenues where we find more of God. It is not that he was any smaller than before, it is simply the case that we have been awakened to see more of how vast He truly is. In this way, God allows us to break. God is the greatest iconoclast. He allows us to break so that in the end we see how everything in this world fails, and only He remains.
I end with what Aiden Wilson Tozer once wrote, “The way to deeper knowledge of God is through the lonely valleys of soul poverty and abnegation of all things.” Embrace the valley, there you will soon find God.