“God in his wisdom means to make something of us which we have not attained yet, and he is dealing with us accordingly.
Perhaps he means to strengthen us in patience, good humor, compassion, humility, or meekness, by giving us some extra practice in exercising these graces under especially difficult conditions.
Perhaps he has new lessons in self-denial and self-distrust to teach us. Perhaps he wishes to break us of complacency, or unreality, or undetected forms of pride and conceit.
Perhaps his purpose is simply to draw us closer to himself in conscious communion with him; for it is often the case, as all the saints know, that fellowship with the Father and the Son is most vivid and sweet, and Christian joy is greatest, when the cross is heaviest. Or perhaps God is preparing us for forms of service of which at present we have no inkling.
Paul saw part of the reason for his own afflictions in the fact that God “comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Cor. 1:4). Even the Lord Jesus “learned … obedience by the things which he suffered,” and so was “made perfect” for his high-priestly ministry of sympathy and help to his hard-pressed disciples (Heb. 5:8-9 KJV).
This means that, as on the one hand he is able to uphold us and make us more than conquerors in all our troubles and distresses, so on the other hand, we must not be surprised if he calls us to follow in his steps, and to let ourselves be prepared for the service of others by painful experiences which are quite undeserved. “He knows the way he takes,” even if for the moment we do not.
We may be frankly bewildered at things that happen to us, but God knows exactly what he is doing, and what he is after, in his handling of our affairs. Always, and in everything, he is wise: we shall see that hereafter, even where we never saw it here. (Job in heaven knows the full reason why he was afflicted, though he never knew it in this life.) Meanwhile, we ought not to hesitate to trust his wisdom, even when he leaves us in the dark.
But how are we to meet these baffling and trying situations, if we cannot for the moment see God’s purpose in them? First, by taking them as from God, and asking ourselves what reactions to them, and in them, the gospel of God requires of us; second, by seeking God’s face specifically about them.
If we do these two things, we shall never find ourselves wholly in the dark as to God’s purpose in our troubles. We shall always be able to see at least as much purpose in them as Paul was enabled to see in his thorn in the flesh (whatever it was). It came to him, he tells us, as a “messenger of Satan,” tempting him to hard thoughts of God. He resisted this temptation and sought Christ’s face three times, asking that it might be removed.
The only answer he had was this: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” On reflection, he perceived a reason why he should have been thus afflicted: it was to keep him humble, “to keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations.” This thought, and Christ’s word, were enough for him. He looked no further.
Here is his final attitude: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12:7-9).
This attitude of Paul is a model for us. Whatever further purpose a Christian’s troubles may or may not have in equipping him for future service, they will always have at least that purpose which Paul’s thorn in the flesh had: They will have been sent us to make and keep us humble, and to give us a new opportunity of showing forth the power of Christ in our mortal lives.
And do we ever need to know any more about them than that? Is not this enough in itself to convince us of the wisdom of God in them? Once Paul saw that his trouble was sent him to enable him to glorify Christ, he accepted it as wisely appointed and even rejoiced in it. God give us grace, in all our own troubles, to go and do likewise” (From Knowing God, by J. I. Packer).