Childhood Suffering: Was there any purpose?

Childhood Suffering

Was there any purpose?

Part 1

God appoints certain young men and women to suffer early in life. God marks out select young men and women to experience acute pain. From the start, they are marked for suffering. It’s a pattern you can trace.

Perhaps He appointed you to suffer early in life, though the men or women responsible for your suffering are still culpable. He appointed me to suffer early in life. In my case, it was no one’s fault. But the suffering was real. The subject for me is a tender one even today. But my wounds are healed. The wounds you suffered as a child can also experience full healing.

Are You Wasting Your Suffering?

Have you considered that the suffering you experienced early in life was ordained by God? Have you given thought to the idea that there might be a divine purpose for your pain? Or are you wasting your suffering?

I Wasted My Suffering

I wasted my suffering for a while. But I gradually came to understand that my loving Father had a purpose for my suffering. As my understanding of that purpose developed, my attitude toward suffering and toward Him changed dramatically for the better. Today, it is clear that God as a loving Father appointed the suffering for a purpose. You, too, can experience the same attitudinal change; but you first may need to change your perspective on your past suffering.

Suffering as a Pattern

From the start, Scripture does not hesitate to record a pattern of the sufferings of young men and women.

Abel suffered death at the hand of his angry brother (Gen 4); it was murder in the cathedral (killed at worship). Isaac, beloved son of Abraham, and Joseph, beloved son of Jacob, also suffered when their fathers sent them off to life-threatening situations (Gen 22 & 37). A father’s love marked them out for suffering. Jesus, Beloved Son of the Father, was also marked for suffering and death early in life (Mark 1:11; 12:8).

Ruth suffered when she became a widow early in life (Ruth 1). Esther was orphaned in a foreign land, and, so she suffered early as well (Esther 1).

The Pattern of Suffering Today

Young men, women, and children today suffer much pain early in life. The pattern of pain remains the same. A father or mother abandons the family. So, the boy or girl grows up without a dad or mum. It is not unusual for a departed parent to fail to pay child support. Life becomes even more difficult for the single parent and children.

Other married couples divorce, forcing the children to play the game of hand-off. Out of anger or substance abuse, some fathers abuse the mother of the children or the children themselves. Still other children are exposed to multiple males in the household, none of whom are their fathers. And it is normal to feel rejected if your biological parents didn’t keep you and offered you up for adoption.

I’ve met hundreds of young men whose father or mother or both are in county jail or state prison.[1] Parents may die early in life or suffer debilitating injuries. Some fathers or mothers commit suicide. Siblings die or suffer severe injuries. The types of suffering young people experience are numerous.

The Suffering Seems Unfair

It is normal for the young who suffer to ask, why. Why did this tragedy happen to me? It doesn’t seem fair. Why me and not others? Why do other kids have dads and mums, and not me? What did I do to deserve this (suffering)?

Suffering Leaves Wounds

There are many reasons young children and teens suffer as innocent victims. But common to all the variety of sufferings, suffering can cut deep wounds; suffering often leaves wounded kids. And wounded kids need healing. Are you one of those wounded kids in an adult body?

Signs of Woundedness

I’ve met far too many young men and women who reflect woundedness in their attitudes and relationships; some are bitter, easily angered or frustrated. Others are insecure, anxious, fearful, or un-teachable.

Wounded kids can be vindictive, prickly, and prone to hold grudges; others are promiscuous, easily depressed or defeated by the slightest problem or challenge; still others reveal their woundedness with laziness and procrastination.

Wounded kids in adult bodies frequently display overweening pride or rebellion against God or other people in authority. That rebellion against God is often expressed by an obsessive fascination for facets of the occult (i.e., wizards, witches, sorcery, spells, curses, divination, all things demonic, anti-God, and anti-Jesus).

Wounded kids may medicate their pain with alcohol, drugs, music, or food. Still others adopt contradictory attitudes towards life and death. They may give abortion—killing an innocent, defenseless baby--a pass, yet protest the use of torture on convicted terrorists.

The number of people today with daddy-related problems is legion. With the breakup of the family, this is not surprising, though it still remains a great sadness.

Wounded kids turned adults are hard to live with, hard to work with, and hard to serve with. Even with loving support from family, church, and friends, some young people remain wounded throughout life. Their wounds never heal. Their suffering is wasted.

Are Your Wounds Still Bleeding?

Perhaps one of these characteristics describes you. Perhaps, you, too, suffered deeply when you were young. And you can identify with my description of a young man or woman with an “edge.” Your close friends may have dropped the hint to you. But you tend to deny it or dismiss their hints; down deep, though, you know it is true. You, too, have an edge. You’ve been wounded. And your wounds still bleed.

Are You Wasting Your Suffering?

I level no criticism or judgment. I, too, had an edge. I can identify with the description. My edge created a liability in my relationships, both with God and my human relationships. Perhaps you are still angry with God because you suffered as a child. I, too, used to be angry with God because of suffering. But I didn’t know it. My anger was bottled up inside. I was wounded but didn’t know it. Others did and felt it. I didn’t. Can you identify with my self-description? Are you one of the walking wounded? Are you wasting your suffering?

While I level no criticism or judgment at the wounded—I do urge wounded men and women to view their sufferings through a different lens, the lens of God’s purpose. Why waste your suffering?

Your Wounds Can Be Healed

I viewed my sufferings through the lens of God’s purpose and it made such a difference. My wounds healed. There are scars, but the bleeding has stopped. The wounds are healed. My suffering was not wasted. Your wounds can stop bleeding too. Though wounded, you, too, can be healed.

In Part 2, I plan on providing a Scriptural lens through which to view your own suffering. God marked you out—a beloved son or daughter of His--for suffering early in life. But He did it for a purpose. I am persuaded that your suffering will not be wasted if you adopt a new perspective.

Until Part 2 is posted, let me suggest you meditate on a portion of a Psalm that describes how God marked out a young man for suffering. His suffering was severe but it was not wasted. Observe the flow of the narrative, from start to finish. Look for the center hinge of the passage. Look for God’s purpose in the suffering. Examine how severe suffering was not wasted. Observe the dual role that human responsibility and divine sovereignty play in the story.

Psalm 105:16-22[2]

16 He called for a famine on the land of Canaan,
    cutting off its food supply.[3]
17 Then He[4] sent man {to Egypt} ahead of them[5]
    Joseph, who was sold[6] as a slave.
18 They bruised his feet with shackles[7]
    and placed his neck in an iron collar.[8]

19 Until the time[9] came to fulfill his predictions,[10]
    the Lord tested[11] Joseph’s character.[12]

20 Then[13] Pharaoh sent for him and set him free;
    the ruler of the nation opened his prison door.
21 Joseph was put in charge[14] of all the king’s household;
    he became ruler over all the king’s possessions.
22 He could instruct the king’s aides as he pleased
    and teach the king’s advisers.

Thank you for reading. I know that reading this may have bumped your unhealed wounds. Please forgive me. Perhaps the pain can serve as a reminder that your wounds need healing and can be healed.
Look for Part Two.




[1] Just last week, in a youth prison, I met Tyler. His father shot and killed a law enforcement officer and will serve a life sentence. His mother is a drug addict on the streets and her location currently cannot be traced. His grandmother recently died. He has no family. He is 16 years of age, needing to be adopted. But who would adopt a 16 year old male with a criminal record? No one, it seems, wants him.

[2] This paragraph is but one illustration about ‘the wonders God has done;’ See vv. 1-6. Despite the severe pain Joseph suffered, the Psalmist interprets the series of events as one of God’s “wonders.”

[3] Literally, the Hebrew text says, “Every staff of food he broke.”

[4] The divine cause for Joseph’s suffering, being sent to Egypt. God sent Joseph to Egypt. God marked out Joseph for suffering. God ordained that he suffer.

[5] Ahead of Joseph’s family. They eventually came to Egypt.

[6] The human cause for Joseph’s suffering; his brothers hated him because of his father’s preferential love. God sent Joseph to Egypt but it was his brother’s hatred and choice to sell him into slavery that actually took him to Egypt. Human responsibility and God’s sovereignty working in parallel sequence. It is a mystery. But it is true, nevertheless.

[7] Joseph endured emotional (rejection by family) and physical pain. This information is not given in the Genesis story.

[8] This information is also missing from the Genesis narrative. Literally, “His neck came into iron.”

[9] Observe: the time period is vague; cf., Genesis 39:20—41:1.

[10] Joseph experienced dreams while still at home; see Genesis 37:5-10. But this word probably describes the dream which described fate of the cup bearer and baker in Genesis 41.

[11] “Tested,” the Hebrew word used to describe the refining of silver in fire. It could be translated as “smelt,” or “refine.” See Proverbs 27:21; the only reality that can refine silver to its most pure state is a hot fire; nothing is strong enough to separate the impurities from silver other than a hot fire. God was refining Joseph, removing the impurities that would limit his leadership capabilities. God used the hot fire of suffering to shape Joseph’s character.

[12] The Lord used physical and emotional pain as the tools to refine Joseph’s character. The Psalm omits the injustice Joseph experienced when he was falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife.

[13] But not a day earlier. The process of refining Joseph’s character took time. God was growing an oak tree in Joseph, not a mushroom.

[14] The refining of his character was preparation for leadership and teaching (v. 22). This is the second time Joseph was put second in command.

Tim Cole