Suffering's Opportunity

Nobody likes to suffer.

Some people seem to live a charmed life with very little suffering—at least outwardly. Some suffer constantly from one disaster after another. Some suffer from deep, deep tragedy, like the families of children whose lives were taken in another school shooting this week in Texas. Some suffer from chronic pain or chronic illness.

It is part of human nature to ask “Why?” when we suffer. Why, God? Why me? Why this? Why can’t my life be filled with joy instead of suffering? The questions are borne of deep pain, and they can be healthy. God is not offended when we ask them.

On the other hand, the “Why?” questions can be hurled at God with a clenched fist of anger. “If you are God and if you are good, why don’t you DO something to end my suffering?” Sometimes the “Why?” questions can take us to a crisis of faith.

We long for a universe where good people are rewarded with happy lives and where suffering is eliminated. But the world is a fallen world, filled with evil and sickness and suffering. All human beings suffer. No one skates through life without pain and heartache and illness and sorrow.

In fact, often suffering happens in my life because of my own sinful, foolish choices. Out of control eating leads to my being overweight. That is not God’s fault. My father smoked cigarettes for 50 years and died of lung cancer in his 60’s. Sometimes our suffering is self-inflicted.

Add to all this the injustice of suffering for doing good. Sometimes we suffer rejection because of our faith in Jesus Christ. Many of us have lost longtime friends or suffered opposition from family members because of antagonism toward faith. In some parts of the world people are being tortured and martyred for nothing more than believing in Jesus.

So where is God in all this suffering? He is with us.He enters into the place of suffering to stand beside us. Jesus promised His disciples just before His ascension into heaven, “Surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”(Matthew 28:20 NIV) Jesus Himself suffered all the consequences of humanity’s sin on the Cross. He does not just sit in heaven, cruelly watching and doing nothing while we suffer.

And here is a Biblical truth about suffering that does not provide much comfort, but that does provide some different perspective. Suffering is an opportunity to demonstrate the strength and reality of faith. To suffer and turn to prayerinstead of despairdeepens our own relationship with Jesus, and shows others a where-the-rubber-meets-the-road example of how faith makes a difference.

Paul suffered from what he described as a “thorn in the flesh.” We don’t know whether it was a physical affliction or something else. What we know comes from Paul’s own pen: “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”(2 Corinthians 12:7-9 NIV)

When suffering comes, the faith response is to turn our eyes upon Jesus. When suffering comes, of course we have “Why?” questions, and it is not out of bounds to ask them. Suffering can be an opportunity to learn deep things about our relationship with God. When suffering comes and we pray deeply, it can lead to greater depths of faith than we could otherwise find. Suffering is an opportunity to lean in to Jesus and find comfort and strength in Him that comes from no place else.

Living faith means suffering cannot defeat or destroy us. And that is a great source of Blessed Assurance!

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