Does God want us to be miserable?

Hi friends,

I wanted to start another conversation from a comment @kathleen made in the FOMO Essay thread. She wrote:

@kathleen, thank you for these wise insights.

For me, I have spent a considerable amount of time resigned to misery in God’s service.

In one season of my life, I was heavily influenced by a community of Christians who voluntarily embraced poverty to live among the poor and be generous with their resources. Consequently, I lived in two low-resource neighborhoods, one in Memphis, and another in Boston. The time in Memphis was relatively happy, though it was an area that no pizza company would deliver to, and very few friends came to visit. But the sweetness has especially come because the few times I’ve returned to visit that community over the years I have been able to celebrate how it has been transformed by some more Christians moving into the neighborhood, investing in the kids, and providing neighborly care.

The neighborhood in Boston was much tougher. A bullet hit the side of our home, the insulation was weak and so the winters were quite cold, I got pulled over by police who wanted to see if I was running drugs to the suburbs, and it was geographically isolated from the rest of my community. When I moved out of that house into a better environment, a couple of days later my body broke out in shingles, which I interpret as a response to all the stress I had been under.

To be clear, I admire Christians who embrace poverty to love their neighbors.

Still, my attempt to replicate their faith was more miserable than joyful - and involved sacrifice that still wasn’t connected to a clear sense of loving others and making their lives better. Even though I lived in that neighborhood, it was hard to get traction in terms of building relationships there. (I was enrolled in seminary full-time and doing nearly full-time ministry). I pushed myself so hard to ‘serve the Lord’ that it wore me out.

One lesson I gained from this experience is that I first needed to experience myself as God’s beloved if I was going to order my life in a way that was sustainable, good, and aligned with God’s care for me.

Have you ever felt that you had to be miserable in order to be faithful to God? What got you to that place? What helped you move on from it?


After replying on the other thread re. thriving, I wanted to reply to these thoughts of yours too, in light of the “resignation to misery”…

For myself, I was resigned to misery because I thought that God demanded or required it. That is, I believed “If it’s going to be good, it’s going to be hard.” I don’t know where that adage came from, but it’s a pretty influential one in my family. Anything worthwhile will be difficult. So when the difficulty turns to misery, it’s hard to see it as something that perhaps is not good. God teaches us the deepest lessons in the most difficult spaces, right? I do believe that can be true, but it can keep misery in the “good” column. Of course, maybe then we believe that once we learn the lesson, the misery will subside and perhaps that, too, is true in some cases. But when misery persists, where do we go with it? How do we understand it?

Does God want us to be miserable. I would now say no. I think, instead, he desires us to know and experience his loving presence with us when miserable circumstances arise…as they will inevitably do if we are engaged in life around us.


I agree.

When I read Jesus saying,

Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

My first thought isn’t, this guy despises me and all my problems. He’s upset with my sin and is quite frustrated that he has to help me out… again.

Many times when I’ve called my granddad, he answers the phone with, “Been working hard?” I laugh. It’s true, hard work is critical to life. It’s a virtue he’s taught me. And I’m grateful.

At the same time, that isn’t the meaning of life. Maybe I’ll ask my grandkids, “Enjoying God’s love?”


I really appreciate that you’ve raised this question. As I’ve reflected on what’s been said so far, I have realised that I really identify with the belief,

I assume that ‘good’ here means of eternal value/worth rather than ‘“great, I love it!” Yes, I think that is an underlying belief I’ve carried, whether rightly or wrongly. It reminds me of the puritans, particularly the more extreme cases, who sought lack of comfort or pleasure as for them it equated holy living and seeking after God’s will. Or the monks who not only wore itchy robes, but flagellated themselves in the hope that their present misery would obtain an eternal pardon. I wonder if there are tinges of this philosophy in my own walk with God sometimes.

@Carson referred to Christians who seek out sources of misery in their mission to serve other communities. What about the Christians who aren’t even able to say they suffer misery for the sake of mission? What of the unhappily married spouse who remains in their marriage because they’re called to stay in obedience to God? What of the person who spends their life waiting for God’s provision and scratches and saves pennies year after year without a breakthrough? I wonder what we might say about their cases? They can’t even commend themselves by saying “well, at least I went through that as part of my service to God”. Having said that, I can see how these may be called service to God in their own ways, but I imagine for those in their positions, that won’t be an obvious truth for them to hold on to. Holding on to the love of God may be the only answer I can see. But then, how does it meet the idea of living this life in abundance?

I don’t think I’m answering the questions that Carson has raised, but added to them. So I’m curious as to what anyone might think on this?

Yes! Such a good focus to encourage one another with. If the goal of life is to “love God and enjoy Him forever” then asking one another this question is a good way to shift the focus from the misery of the present age into the eternal joy that we can begin to experience now.


Hi @alison, those are difficult situations.

My main concern is to avoid ‘cheap’ answers that pile religious burdens on others while I go on in comfort and ease.

That is, I would say that our primary response to these situations is to care and to serve. How can I support friends who are in a difficult marriage? (I’m not talking about an abusive one!) How can I be more generous to those who are barely scraping by?

Second, I think God can tenderize our hearts as we endure suffering. For instance, as I’ve recovered from the traumatic spiritual abuse that I experienced at RZIM, it has changed me. I’m still recovering. I didn’t ask to suffer in this way, or to be miserable for such an extended period of time, but there it was. There was a season when I didn’t know if I would ever get better. I just had to endure it. Thankfully, I had and have access to a lot of supportive resources. I wouldn’t wish to go through anything like this again, but given that I did experience it, I can see how walking through this has taught me valuable lessons about following Christ.

Third, I’m comforted that Jesus can identify with these situations. As Isaiah 53:3 forecast about him,

He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of suffering who knew what sickness was.
He was like someone people turned away from;
he was despised, and we didn’t value him.

To rise up to a 30,000-foot view, I think the point is that misery isn’t to be sought out as a good thing in and of itself. It isn’t wise to say, “Ok, this choice will be miserable, so that’s what I must do!”

Rather, I would say something like, “Ok. After thinking about, praying about it, and getting counsel, it’s clear this is the right choice, and unfortunately, it’s going to involve suffering. I wish I could follow Jesus without the misery, but that isn’t an option in this situation. God, help me get through this.”


Thank you for sharing your personal experiences of misery and pain so openly. I value the deep personal insight you’ve shared. Thinking about this and the examples of misery I gave above has led me to think about the role of Hope and the necessity to have an Eternal Perspective through misery.

As I’ve thought on this, I believe that Hope is the key. Misery and suffering can be endured when there is hope. Thinking back to your own experience of misery after RZIM, would you say there was hope in the pain? Even a basic hope that God was still God even if the way forward looked blurry or even closed? Or a hope that there were still ‘decent’ and spiritually mature members of humanity who could utterly carry you when you couldn’t walk forward yourself? These may not be exactly your experience, but I’m trying to think of possible examples of hope. As a slight parallel, I once needed to forgive someone who had absolutely devastated my life. I did not want to and could not forgive this person, so deep was the wound and consequences of their actions. So some wise Christian counsellors invited me to take a much smaller step: just to pray to want to forgive. I was not being invited to forgive. Just to start wanting to. In the same way, if we do not have a great Hope that there will be a way out of the misery immediately, are there still small steps of Hope that carry us forward to the next step of Hope until the picture looks clearer? By the way, by praying to merely want to consider forgiveness, I opened the doors for the Holy Spirit to enable me to fully forgive and this brought much healing. I use this example to illustrate the tiny steps that God can use to lift us out of misery, or at the very least, enable us to move forward through the misery, and avoid spiritual, mental and emotional drowning.

I only ask all this as I was prompted to consider these things as I was reading CS Lewis’ chapter on Hope in Mere Christianity. In this, he refers to Christians who influenced the present world because their minds were on the next world:

“The Apostles themselves, who set foot on the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven”.

I think we can safely say that at times each of these Christians would have endured misery, either in the difficult and long haul of their ministries, or in how their lives ended, sometimes in martyrdom. Hope in the eternal gets us through the present misery. I’m very much reminded of Hebrews 12:2, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross”.

This eternal promise may not always be a comfort in the moment, however. I have had very honest conversations with a friend who says that sometimes the only promise they can relevantly cling to is simply that we will ‘see Him in the land of the living’. This hope can seem very far off amidst their long-term misery, but it is still a hope.

Does God want us to be miserable? I think not, but it is a reality of life. God knows this so well, just as you quoted from Isaiah 53, which is why I think God has intentionally given us Hope to carry us through the misery towards a clear view and promise of eternity. Psalm 27 is of great comfort to wait in Hope.

I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.