Where were you on December 7, 1941, or September 11, 2001?
Matthew 5:10; James 1:2; 1 Peter 4:13; Hebrews 10:24; 2 Corinthians 1:24; 12:9 Philippians 1:19-25; 2:17
"My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life." (Psalm 119:50)
Such dates galvanize us as Americans; perhaps they can even define a generation. This is what had happened with the people living during WWII and what may be happing in our current generation since 9/11. Such dates cause us to ponder, to stop what we are doing, and seek order and purpose in senseless tragedy. No one likes suffering. As much as I try to avoid it, it keeps happening to me. Maybe you know someone who has dealt with this. Perhaps you, too, have suffered through tragedy or loss and have wondered, why. Perhaps you have sought an answer or the significance of an event. I have often asked why, and have sought a purpose or meaning.
Suffering has a way of getting our attention, and usually our ‘why?’ and ‘how come?’ become the all-consuming focus for us, and, of course, a serious, if not devastating, assault to our faith may result. Those assaults of suffering will either build up or destroy our faith in and commitment to Christ. To a non-Christian, this is very tragic indeed. Without a strong foundation of faith and obedience, one will gain nothing from an experience. It will be meaningless and senseless. Yet, God has chosen to make suffering a part of His plan, a plan to help us grow, to learn, to see what life is really about, and to see what is important, versus what is trivial.
Too often we seek the whys when we encounter suffering, whether it be from seeing it in the news to personally experiencing a loss. We ask, why did this happen to me? Or, perhaps we rush to judgment, blaming someone or something for it, without looking carefully at the situation. We need to consider that sometimes there is no answer, as was in the case of Job. There will be a time when all of our questions will be answered, but, for now, our attention should be on Christ, not on the situation.
In Biblical, Christian theology, we are given a worldview and perspective of life and suffering that does not fit with that of society, or with our own feelings or desires. We are given a purpose that transcends suffering, where the big picture is not on earthly goods and situations, but in relationships, and ultimately in Christ. We are also given a picture that does not mesh with our self-perceptions, because we see ourselves as good and not deserving of suffering. Yet, in God eyes, we are not good, nor do we deserve good. We do not like such statements. They cause us to be angry—perhaps, even at God. Yet, our anger is misplaced, as God is perfect, and just in His judgment. He is holy, sovereign, and pure. We, by our own free will and choice, sinned against Him, beginning with Adam and Eve, and continuing with all peoples since then. Sin is absolutely heinous in God’s sight. So, Christ paid the ultimate price for our sin, that we might enter His presence with our sins covered, having a place securely reserved for us in eternity. That is what atonement means. We are under the veneer of His redemption. Even though we are corrupted and full of sin, we are still called to grow and to seek His Will. Whatever you may have been taught, experienced, felt, or thought, nonetheless, our sin is still there. So, we need to understand that our ideas of, we do not deserve this, are not rooted in Biblical precepts, but rather in our own mind. That does not mean God does not care or that He does not have a wonderful plan for our life, because He does. It just may not be what we want. However, it is what is best.
We only see a small, small fragment of life and meaning. God sees the whole picture. Our time here is a mere vapor to what is ahead. We do not see the big picture, but only the here and now. He sees us with eternity in mind, so to help us be formed and matured for His purpose. His plan is best. Although it can be a hard and long road for some, it is worth it more than we can possibly imagine! Take this to heart: He is there guiding, loving, empowering, and even carrying us through it!
What does Suffering mean?
As we look at church history, especially in the lives of many Christian saints throughout time, one key theme runs through it all. From the first century Christians to modern China, that theme is suffering. Oswald Chambers wrote, You cannot help suffering; it is a true and needful training for the soul that dares to be true to God. Suffering is an essential aspect of our Christian growth, whether it is mental, physical, financial, or spiritual. It is the main connection that enables the battery to power us to be the best Christian possible. It is the link between the Holy Spirit and God’s perfect plan working in us. Without this vital connection, the power source--our Lord--will not be able to prime us for His service. We may have the ability and the power of the Spirit, but the vital link between them is missing. A spark of truth and service may pass between them that causes us to think we are working and doing fine. But, there can be so much more! So, when that connection is firmly in place, the power will flow the most, and our walk in Him becomes our best. That is why we are encouraged in the Word to hold on tight and be tough to the end. In other words, perseverance knows that our future is in His Hands, in His control, and whatever consequences we may face, we are to look to the rewards to come. Our hope and purpose is to be with Christ in everlasting eternity.
John, chapter nine, records a personal tragedy, a seemingly valid reason to ask why. A person was born blind at birth. How could there be anything more senseless? The Disciples quickly picked up that this could be sin, our original sin that penetrates and corrupts everything in the universe (Rom. 5:12-21). After all, it is classic Jewish thinking to jump to that conclusion, as did the friends of Job. There are situations where sin does infect the innocent. A child with cancer is a prime example, as the cells of our body are not perfect, nor is our environment, so when the two converge, devastation can result. But, in the case of the blind man, sin was not the issue; he was blinded so that God could be glorified. Again, people may cry, foul. Why would God do such a dreadful thing, especially to a newborn baby? But, He did not do a dreadful thing. The miracle of Christ willing to work in us and to give us anything, including a limited life, is pure Grace, and not senseless. So, when bad things happen, we are not to see the dilemma, rather what we have left to work with, what we have in front of us to go on, and learn to count it as joy.
God’s perfect purpose is to ordain us to flow in His perfect Will. Yet, we do not live in a perfect world. So, He has to work in us--through the sin and corruption of the world, and through our bad choices. This is what Romans, chapter eight, is about. In this, we are to see Him loving us and working in us, regardless of the situation. This is what generates the joy. Our ultimate joy is who we are in Him, not our circumstance, not our experience, not our knowledge, or education, and definitely not our feelings. Our Joy comes from the fact of our free gift of Grace that we did not deserve. Our joy in Christ must supersede all else. It must be the centerpiece in our lives.
The path to following God’s Will and seeing that joy is not always an easy path, is a path filled with potholes and highwaymen. Yet, the modern church considers suffering negative, because it does not line up with happiness, peace, and joy. Some even teach that suffering is a sign that you are out of God's Will and have unredeemed sin. However, this is not Biblical. It is a difficult journey, but take heart; our sufferings are very temporary in the scheme of our eternal existence. Check out John 16; 33; Romans 8:18 and 1 Peter 4:19.
Understanding the ‘whys.’
Why, why, why? we ask! Yet, it is not so much a question of how we answer the question of suffering (what is called the problem of suffering theologically), the why it has happened to me. It is not about how we can get an answer, seeking the why from God. Job discovered that the why is not important. Rather, it is about how we live our lives, regardless of our circumstances. God understands that even though we may have buried a loved one, we cannot bury our feelings. We need time to mourn and vent—and even invent ways of coping with the loss in our lives. (Hence why there are so many conflicting theories in psychology!) God records in His Word that people in biblical days were in no hurry to rush through the process of grief. But, they did eventually get on with their lives! "A time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build", (Ecc. 3:3). The why is not the solo quest we are to seek. Why is not the place we are to live our lives and concentrate our devotions. Dwelling on the why will keep us from learning, and take our eyes off Him. It even interferes in His healing grace, because, when we are so full of whys, there is no room for Christ!
Remain faithful and enjoy the ride of life even when you hit a pothole and bump your head.
Suffering has five main themes to it:
1. Our God is good. Our pain allows us to identify with our Lord, who suffered for our sin in our place, being without fault and undeserving of the suffering. So, why should we expect better? It draws us closer to and more intimate with Him. God will actually enter into the pain with us. So if there is no healing, He is just working harder in us!
2. God will use our suffering for the greater good that is His purpose. Consider it fertilizer to the garden of life. Giving our burden to God through prayer, as Paul did, will allow us to grow in greater depth spiritually.
3. Remember, God is working even when we do not feel it! The chief purpose of God's Will for us is to grow us closer to Him! It is not about money, or power, or our bodies, or work, or anything else! The focus on Christ and His character will perfect our character to be more Christ like and be in His will.
4. Suffering is not being a martyr; rather, it is valuable for our living as we learn to surrender everything to Him. Never force suffering on yourself for attention, as this does not glorify God, only yourself!
5. When we are filled with joy, even in the mist of suffering, we mirror to the world the character of Christ. The main theme of suffering is not how we answer the ways and whys, but how we live our lives so to still give God the glory! How do we allow Him to use us, and then share our experiences for the benefit of others, such as people like Joni Erickson Tada?
Suffering is a choice, not of will we go though it or not, but how will we deal and learn from it. That is what is important! When we trust in Him, He will not forsake us, leave us, or abandon us. He is always there. Remember, Jesus Himself suffered the most on our behalf--the Person, the God who cares for us! He took our place of suffering and bore our sins so we could have meaning, purpose, and a place in Heaven.
We need to take to heart that when life is at its darkest, God is there. He understands, and loves and carries us though it. We need to accept the fact that God is in control, even if we do not understand. It is by faith we can endure it. We can place such faith in Him because of the assurance we have through His Word, even when we do not understand. Our true home and purpose is not here; it is still to come. We are not made for this world, we are just here to learn all we can, and with what Christ has given to us, make the best and most of the situations in which we find ourselves. Then, one day, we will be called to our true home in eternity, in Heaven. So, let us cling to the hope we have, not the things we experience!
For further help please see our articles on: God Really does have a Purpose behind your Problems! and Growing through Difficult Times of Waiting and Confusion .
Some further comforting verses: Psalm 31:9; Psalm 119:50; Isaiah 41:10; Romans 8:18; 28-29; 35-37; James 1:2-3; 12; John 9; 14:1; Colossians 1:24;
1 Thessalonians 1:6-7; 1 Peter 4:12-19; Hebrews 10:34; Revelation 21:4.
“The Holy Spirit longs to reveal to you the deeper things of God. He longs love through you. He longs to work through you. Through the blessed Holy Spirit you may have: strength for every duty, wisdom for every problem, comfort in every sorrow, joy in His overflowing service.” T.J. Bach
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