Sometimes You Can See How Suffering Makes Sense

By Tom Gilson Published on April 12, 2019

Where is God when we’re suffering? Sometimes you really do find out the answer.

It was the hardest two years of my career, working for the worst boss I’ve ever had. He dropped names constantly, and needlessly. He micromanaged not only his own direct reports, but other leaders and staff several layers down the chain. If he saw me thinking at my desk he’d order me to get to work — even though thinking was a major part of my work.

In hindsight I grieve for him. He was a man of huge accomplishments. If I told you one of those deeds in particular you’d say, “Really? He did that?” Still his life at work seemed centered around trying to become a significant person — even though he already was, by every measure that counts.

Did I say he was hard to work for? Well, he distrusted me in particular. Once he told a colleague he thought headquarters had sent me to his team to spy on him. (Not true, in case that needed saying.)

I’d like to say I handled it with full faith, hope and joy. The reality is, I hated going to work. I hated driving there. I even hated getting ready in the morning. Sorry, but that’s how poorly I handled it. My two years in that job were the longest days in my life.

Learning a New Lesson

But they were also some of the best. It took a while to realize how much good this boss had done me, but now I thank God for him every time I think of him.

There was one moment in particular when I had to stand up to an unethical request he’d made of me. (I mentioned this briefly in another article not long ago.)

He had his reasons for thinking it was okay, but I had reason to disagree. Maybe he was right, but I didn’t think so then, and I still don’t. Before the Lord, I knew I had to follow my conscience. I had to say no.

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I’d never said no to a powerful leader. I’d never put my job on the line that way; never taken that kind of risk for my convictions.

And I’d also never realized how important it was to be able to do that. Not that a person should do that very often. I don’t recommend standing up to your boss so firmly unless you really have to. In fact can’t remember another time I’ve done it since then. Yet I needed those skills.

Why? Because a man who can’t say “no” is a man whose “yes” doesn’t carry much weight. A man has to have the ability to say “no” in his own strength and integrity. Otherwise he can’t say much at all, in strength or integrity. It was under that boss — and especially at that key moment — that I started to discover I could be the man of strength God created me to be. I wouldn’t be anywhere near the place I’m at now without that.

God is Always at Work; Sometimes it Makes Sense

Not that I realized all this at the time. That conflict happened about halfway through my two years working there. My second and final year with this boss was just as miserable as the first. It was at least a couple years afterward that I recognized the difference that boss had made in my life.

It was the usual sort of suffering, in other words. I couldn’t make any sense of it while it was going on. Only later did it become unusual, in the sense that I could actually see the good it had done me. That kind of clarity is rare. But it serves as a visible example of a truth that’s usually invisible: God never puts us through anything without good reason, reason that’s best summed up in Romans 5:2b-5:

We rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.


Tom Gilson is a senior editor with The Stream, and the author of A Christian Mind: Thoughts on Life and Truth in Jesus Christ. Follow him on Twitter: @TomGilsonAuthor.

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