What Is the Purpose of Suffering?

Why isn’t life easier? Some people suffer more than others, and some trials are harder than others, but we all suffer to some degree and in some way. Why?

Lehi’s son Jacob was born in the wilderness, far from the comforts his family had previously enjoyed in Jerusalem. In addition to the physical hardships associated with the journey, Jacob suffered emotional trauma due to the unkindness of some of his older siblings (2 Nephi 2:1-2, Jacob 7:26). But near the end of Lehi’s life, he taught Jacob three principles to help him understand the value of the suffering he had experienced:

1. Suffering can make us better.

After acknowledging Jacob’s challenges, Lehi assured him, “[God will] consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain” (2 Nephi 2:1-2).

To consecrate something is to dedicate it for a sacred purpose. Suffering is not inherently sacred, but God can make it so. He can ensure that the things we suffer make us stronger. Suffering without God may not strengthen us at all; it may merely tear us down. But if we allow suffering to humble us and to turn our hearts toward Him, then His grace combined with our suffering can become a sanctifying influence in our lives.

2. Suffering makes it possible for us to experience joy.

“There must be an opposition in all things,” Lehi said. Why? Because without external forces acting upon us, we would be stationary, even lifeless. Unless something bad happened to us, we wouldn’t recognize or appreciate the good things. Good is good because it’s better than bad. If we knew nothing about pain, or disappointment, or rejection, or sorrow, we would have no concept of enjoyment, achievement, friendship, or happiness. (See 2 Nephi 2:11-13.)

3. Suffering teaches us to choose wisely.

We can’t fully exercise agency without experiencing adversity. In order to make choices, we have to have options, and in order to make important, grown-up choices, there must be a possibility of painful outcomes.

Man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other (2 Nephi 2:16).

Furthermore, we make some of our most courageous decisions while we are suffering.

  • Will we continue to trust God, like Job?
  • Will we testify of His goodness?
  • How will we treat others? (“Charity suffereth long, and is kind,” Moroni 7:45, 1 Corinthians 13:4).

The possibility of suffering and the reality of suffering both give us opportunities to make decisions at a level that is impossible in an environment of ease and convenience.

Today I will be mindful of the role of suffering in my life. I will remember that with God’s help, it can produce growth, that it can empower me to experience true joy, and that it can give me opportunities to make wise decisions.

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