We frequently point out that God allows us to face various trials and difficulties because he wants to make us more like Himself. He wants us to grow in wisdom, in perseverance. He uses suffering and hardship to conform us more and more to the image of the Son. And that is true, but it puts all the emphasis on the end product, the conclusion, what comes after suffering.
But it’s good to remember that suffering itself is not something alien to God. Trials and hardships are not something that God himself is not acquainted with. In fact, the history of the world, following the Fall, is in a sense the story of God’s suffering and trials and challenges dealing with fallen humanity, the effects of sin, and death. The history of the world is the story of God’s perseverance, his wisdom being displayed, his patient endurance with us. All of our sin, our failures, all the disasters and difficulties that confront us, are fundamentally part of the trial that God faces. And this does not mean that God is any way less than God.
But God allows suffering and trials so that we can enter into his own experience, his patience with evil and sin and death. In other words, becoming like God through suffering is not merely the end product or result at the close of a particularly trying time. Rather, the suffering itself, the difficulty, the challenge, the sorrow, the hurt, it is all itself meant to be godlike. And the promise is that it always is for those who have the Spirit dwelling within them. The Spirit sanctifies our trials, our pain, our confusion, and we share in God’s endurance, God’s own inter-Trinitarian suffering.
Of course if we had any doubt, it is the life of Christ that displays this with the most certainty. Christ, as the revelation of God, reveals God’s life. Christ is the embodiment of God’s dealings with humanity in all of time and space. Christ takes up into himself the suffering of God with the faithless generation in the wilderness, the cyclical patterns of idolatry and oppression in the days of the Judges, the wickedness of his people under the kings. And none of this touches on the rest of humanity in all of its ugliness and perversion and the raging of nature in its groaning for the redemption of the sons of God. Christ embodies all that past history, but also takes up into his patient suffering the entire history of the world, the life of the world. He is God come to endure, come to persevere in the midst of sin and death and suffering.
This is how suffering the effects of a fallen world, suffering persecution, suffering under whatever affliction we face is suffering like God. God grants us the privilege of becoming more like him by the actual endurance of trials, hardships, and suffering. And of course we also look forward to the joy of God, the peace of God, the final restoration of all things in God. We have been united to this God, joined to that community in the power of the Spirit, and the promise is the resurrection and joy that awaits us. And in that, is the promise that the ending of our story is the same ending that Christ was given, in that promise we live now knowing that our beginning and middle are just as godlike, just as holy, just as redemptive as we live by faith in the power of the Spirit.