The “Learning” Myth of Trials

I’m not sure how to entitle this piece because I’m struggling with how to address the issue. The issues is the belief that when we are going through trials that we are doing so in order to learn something. Once we have learned that “something” then the trial will go away because God has accomplished His purpose in us, which, according to this myth, is to teach us some lesson.

You see this myth pop up quite often in life because when a trial that was similar to one we’ve experience before, we think: “well now, I must not have learned what God was trying to teach me last time.”

The problem with all this is that God may not be trying to teach you anything at all. I guess the premise behind this thought is that our education is the most important thing in the world. It is not. Our holiness is.

God is more concerned that we be holy and Christ-like than be well educated. This doesn’t mean we punt our intellects, but the sufferings we face may or may not have a lesson in them that we can see from our vantage point in the flesh. If it were so, I’m sure the Apostle Paul would have told us of such truth. What was Paul’s point?

His point was that when we suffer, we are suffering with Christ. Romans 8:16-17The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.

If we suffer as believers, it is because we identify with our Savior. We join Him in His sufferings. This may be a lesson for some, but that is not the point of verse or of suffering. We suffer because He suffered.

Paul continues: For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

Suffering keeps our eyes on Christ and the greater prize. This world is not the greater prize.

People are always telling me that because I’m going through suffering right now, marriage on the rocks, loss of job, uncertain future, etc., that God must have something wonderful in mind. He does. But that wonderful may not be on this side of glory. What if it glorifies God to keep me from achieving the American Dream? What if I just “get by” in this life and never amount to anything more than a guy who posts an occasional blog? What if poverty was my lot?

I hope it isn’t, but we have to ask that question. What if it is our lot in life? Would we be content in Him?

Paul was. In one of his most misquoted verses by motivational Christians, Paul tells us that he has learned contentment in both wealth and poverty.

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ[a] who strengthens me.

Paul isn’t telling us we can accomplish great things in our jobs, marriages or on the football field. He is telling us we can learn to be content whether in prosperity or poverty.

His contentment comes in God’s sovereignty. He knows that whatever situation he is in, he is there because God placed him there. He is not there to learn some lesson and then move on to the next trial in order to learn “another” lesson. Sort of like those games where each time you win, you advance in your level and power. No, each trial, each period of suffering is there to remind us of our bond with Christ, who suffered far worse than we have ever suffered.

We can learn contentment in these times. But the point of the suffering is not learning contentment, it is identify with Christ.

Another problem with the idea that each trial we face is there to teach us some lesson, is that in taking this approach, we tend to focus on ourselves. We think by looking at ourselves and our problems we can see our way through them, by our learning, we can achieve a get-out-of-suffering free card. By looking at ourselves and understanding the problem may be helpful, is not our goal. Fixing our eyes on Christ is our goal and we must admit that our sufferings are for His glory!

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14 thoughts on “The “Learning” Myth of Trials

  1. Hi Andrew,
    Yes, but my point is that many think the trial is there simply for the fact of “learning” something. I’m not saying we don’t learn lots of things while in trials. But that is not the goal of trials, in the sense that once we learn whatever, it goes away.

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  2. Jody, maybe we need a church where the minister starts every service: “Welcome to our church, where we are meeting with the God of all creation. Sorry, but this service isn’t about you! It is about Him, His glory and what He has done!”
    🙂

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  3. andrea phillips

    Great piece, Timothy. I agree that thinking of trials as a self-contained lesson to be learned and conquered is a too narrow, too small, too self-focused perspective to have of God’s sovereignty and providence. I will say, though, that I do believe that God uses trials to teach us, that there are often lessons for us to learn as one facet of our trial experiences, even if that lesson is simply to have a greater view of God and a smaller view of self. (“What father doesn’t chasten the son he loves?”) But, like you, I see that sometimes our trials and suffering may have very little (or nothing) to do with us, and everything to do with God’s greater economy, in both the worldly and spiritual realms. Hope you are finding encouragement as you lean in to God’s goodness, grace, and eternal providence.

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  4. charmonar

    One of your better posts cuz. I wonder however if absent your current trials your mind would have been opened up as clearly as it is to this issue, or if The Lord may have used them and you to reveal this to others as you have? 😉

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    1. I’m not sure. I don’t think so because it seems like the last so many years of my life have been filled with some sort of trial on one level or another. While going through them all, someone always points to what I need to learn… So… yes and no. 🙂

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    1. You are welcome.

      It always amazes me what posts seem to take off and which ones lie about like the armadillo my Dad shot at 4 a.m. the other day. This post would be the opposite of that armadillo. 🙂

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      1. I can see why. It is so common to hear such words, “God is trying to teach me something in this trial”. If others are like me, they have heard these words and, subconsciously maybe even, thought, something is wrong with that statement. But you have done an excellent job of dissecting exactly what it is that’s wrong with it through scripture. I think that perhaps this post resonates; I know it has for me.

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