In his sovereignty, God uses his people’s suffering for their good. Sometimes suffering makes us pray more fervently to God. Sometimes suffering shows us an idol and leads us to repentance. Sometimes suffering makes us long for heaven. God is sovereign; he can use suffering in amazing ways (see Rom. 5:3-5). Tim Keller discusses this theme in chapter nine of Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering. He says that one way God uses suffering is to make us more compassionate:
“…Suffering is almost a prerequisite if we are going to be of much use to other people, especially when they go through their own trials. Adversity makes us far more compassionate than we would have been otherwise. Before, when we saw others in grief, we may have secretly wondered what all the blubbering was about, why people can’t just suck it up and go on. Then it comes to us – and ever after, we understand. When we have suffered, we become more tender-hearted and able to help others in suffering. Suffering creates wisdom in people, if they handle it and it doesn’t make them hard. It gives us a range of insights that are useful to many other people we meet (Keller quotes 2 Cor. 1:3-7 here).
This is a great point, one that I’ve experienced myself. When I go through a certain trial, it helps me identify with and have compassion for those who have gone through a similar trial. I also appreciate this perspective because it has to do with loving and helping others. As Christians, we know that God is not absent in our suffering, but he uses it for his glory and our good. So if he brings suffering my way so that I can help and love others through their similar suffering, I say, “This is a good plan Lord, thank you that I can be part of it!” I refuse to let my suffering make me bitter and resentful. Instead, I want it to help me love others, like Christ did and has called me to do.
I suppose another way we could say it is like this: God in his sovereignty and grace uses suffering to sanctify us.