In our series The Purpose of Life, we are looking at how to find value and a purpose for living when there is suffering and pain in this life. Without God, it seems as if there is no purpose in life and no value in living. However, with God, life makes perfect sense and even in the midst of trials and suffering we can find hope and a purpose with God. So let’s continue our series.
Last time we looked at a mother and son who had lost all hope. They were in the desert with no food, no water, and the baby boy was dying. All hope was gone. The mother had placed the boy away from her to let him die and God came to the rescue. They had hit rock bottom and it is then when we have no other option but up. God delivered them both and made them prosper. Now you may be asking, “well what about the stories that don’t end happily ever after?” “How can we find purpose when things actually end badly?”. Well the Bible has an example for that too. For that example, we must go back to the exile.
In Jeremiah the 29th chapter lies one of the most popular verses of all time. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”” It is one of the most popular verses for assurance that God does have a plan and it is always for our good. But what many don’t realize is the context surrounding this statement. The Israelites, at this time, are in exile. They were just taken from their homes and towns and taken to Babylon. Their beloved city was overthrown and chaos broke out. Their enemy had overtaken them and now has control over them for seventy years. A whole nation, taken from their land. Here we have another example of a hopeless situation for some. For the young, they may live to see the end of the seventy year exile and then be taken back to their homeland as God had promised. But what about the rest? What about those who won’t live to see the end of the exile? They are going to die in exile, where is the hope? God has a plan not only for those after the exile but also for the ones who will die in exile as well.
Now you may think “how can dying in exile bring any hope?” Where’s the purpose for living in that situation? Well God is going to give them a purpose. Let’s look at Jeremiah 29:4-7,
“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
God tells them to live as if nothing ever happened. He tells them to build houses there, settle there, reproduce there. Everything they would normally be doing at home, God tells them to do here in exile in a foreign land. God also tells them to pray to Him for the peace and prosperity of their enemy. Why? Because if their enemy prospers, they will prosper as well. It is kind of an upside down way of looking at suffering. Yes the situation is bad, yes it seems as if there is no hope and there may not be a way out. But God tells them he has a plan. He tells them to live like normal, their purpose is to live and live for Him. God always has a plan, whether we know it or not or think it’s a good plan, we have to trust and know it will be.
When we have an eternal perspective on this life, our suffering doesn’t compare to the eternity we are looking forward too. Paul says in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” When we have an eternal perspective, it means we are looking toward God and to our home in heaven, not focusing all our strength and attention on things down here. When bad situations arise, be patient, trust in the Lord. It is easy for one to say these things, but it is much harder to put them into practice when the situation arises so we must know these things. For the present pain and suffering might just be preparing us for eternity (2 Corinthians 4:17). This life is full of pain, sorrow, and suffering. But we must always be looking towards that day when all of it is wiped away and we are home in heaven. How do we find purpose in suffering? Trust in God. Know that He has a plan for you and it is the best plan for you. It doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen, but it means we can get through the bad things because we are looking to our eternal home and trusting in God.