Suffering. It’s something everyone born in flesh will experience, or has experienced. As believers in Christ Jesus, and Him as the Son of a Good God, we have many outlooks on how and why we end up in painful situations. Now I do not claim that God causes us to directly suffer, but in the cases where we let Him, I’ve seen that He uses our pain to shape us, to refine us and to make us more like Him. He works all things together for the good of those who love Him. We know this to be true, but really, why do bad things happen to good people? It’s a question that mankind has asked for many years, and not one that I intend to completely tackle but will indirectly give some insight into one of its possible answers.
That being said, I’m not anywhere near being able to speak as an authority on the subject of suffering, however, this season has brought to my attention some of the benefits it has had in my own life.
Here are a few things I have seen in my life as I’ve walked through painful situations:
- 1. Suffering unites us and equips us. All throughout the new testament, especially in the letters to the churches, believers are urged to pray for one another, care for one another and encourage one another through the suffering they are facing. We (believers) all share in the common bond of denying the flesh and choosing to suffer for our Lord. We are all on the same journey towards Christ-likeness and the Bible points out that this journey does not come without trials and testing. We are encouraged to keep the faith through our difficult situations, because we know that we are not in this alone. Now our modern day American suffering may not be close to the same as first-century persecution (though we may one day face the same); however, we are all still united in our call to deny the world and follow Christ. I’ve found that I can relate so much more to those who are struggling after I myself have struggled. The pain of doubt and fear have caused me to have greater confidence, now that I’m on the other side. Without my questioning, I would not have the answers. Without my answers/confidence in my own faith, I would not have what I need to minister to others facing similar challenges that I’ve overcome. So, in a way, God gives us different challenges to overcome so that we each have someone to turn to when we are facing the same, and vice versa. This way we function as a body and not as individuals. Paul mentions this kind of comfort circle when he addresses the church in Corinth (2 Cor 1).
- 2. In our suffering, we experience God in a new way. I never knew the comfort of the Holy Spirit until I knew the suffering of my soul. In my pain, He came through as the Comforter. A thing I never would have known apart from my struggle. See my blog post: “Wine and Woes.” We get to experience Christ in our struggles. Just as in Daniel chapter 3, where God deliberately chooses not to save His three brave followers from the fiery furnace, but instead joins them in their fire. He protects them and delivers them, but He does not keep them from the trouble. Is was through the fire that they were found to be with Jesus, in their life’s greatest trial they had fellowship with Christ. They were brought from their situation with strengthened faith that brought the king and his kingdom to glorify God. Maybe your trial is to point someone to Jesus through the way they see Him with you as you endure the fire.
- 3. Suffering make us more “perfect.” I was amazed at seeing in scripture where is says that even Jesus was perfected through His suffering (Heb. 2). Now if there is anyone who doesn’t need more pain to be perfect, it’s Jesus (I mean, I thought He was already the complete picture of fullness and perfection already). Yet, scripture tells us that even Christ had something to gain through His pain on this earth.* Since He was completely man, I like to think it is that He learned more about who His Father was and also how to relate with our pain. I don’t know about you, but I’m nowhere near close to Jesus status when it comes to righteousness…. What makes me think that God should always swoop in and deliver me from the pain that, may in fact, be the very thing to draw me closer to Him. In my times of deep sorrow and frustration, I have found that the gentle voice of my loving Father is always present to point out the things that were caused because of my own sinfulness. This purging of sin from my life is a painful process, but I would not be who I am without it. In fact, I relate to the Apostle Paul when he says he rejoices in his suffering because he knows the good thing it produces within him.
So even with the discomfort that life can bring, I know that God ultimately works it for my good. This year I have been to so many funeral services I have lost count. Yet, it is an awe-striking thing to seeing a life well-lived come to conclusion. In the pain of death, there is a subtle beauty to the life God shaped. In those moments of memory, we see the hand of God through a person’s life to accomplish great things. Of all the memorial services I went to, the God-glorifying testimonies were never from a person whose life was easy, whose pain was non-existent, or whose path had no struggles. In every great story, the protagonist much overcome so great challenge. We don’t sympathize with the ones who sit in the dust and complain at why life isn’t easier or why they have a hard task; we rally behind the valiant who face hardship, pain and challenge head-on. God has a great story He is writing!
Write now I would say I am in a place where I am hesitant to pray for God to deliver me from all my troubles. I know there is something He is teaching me through them so I desire to face them head-on, and not to disregard what's for my good as something solely from the enemy (I used to have a childish mindset that anything that was painful to me must have been the devil at work). Now I see that correction, training, attaining to perfection, they all require hard work, and yes, sometimes a little suffering. I don't deny that sometimes pain is the result of a door left open that the enemy uses to afflict the righteous, but it's not that way every time. Sometimes it's the enemy, sometimes it's because we live in a fallen world, but ALL the times God uses it for my good!
My encouragement to you is to keep your eyes on your story’s author, even in your pain. Hold fast, knowing that He is all-good, all-loving and all-knowing and that He is working your situation towards your good and His glory!
*For a more in-depth article about this, check out: http://www.biblestudytools.com/classics/murray-be-perfect/christ-made-perfect-through-suffering.html