Suffering is one of the topics that most people, including myself, want nothing to do with. However, there is a great deal that Jesus can teach us through our times of suffering. Here in the US we certainly do not suffer like our early Christian brothers did. For some, suffering is not getting something we want. For others it is loosing a loved one, and yet others being beaten or abused. There are different levels of suffering with various degrees of pain and hardship. We need to understand that suffering has an important role in our lives.
Let’s look at it from my daughter’s perspective. She is twelve years old. I love her with all my heart, but in her mind I cause her suffering every time I tell her to take a shower, every time I ask her to clean her room, every time I train her to say something in a more polite manner, and every time I compel her to do something she does not want to do. As adults, we can see the bigger picture. Obviously, my daughter needs to take a shower because it is for the greater good. No one wants to smell an active twelve year old child and there are health risks involved with not showering.
The truth is, God sees our suffering and knows it well. He wants the best for us, he wants to give us good things. Scripture illustrates this concept in the Gospel of Luke: “Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? If you then know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”(Luke 11:13, NASB) No one in their right mind would ask for suffering. However when you are going through the valley of the shadow of suffering you do ask for it to stop. Suffering isn’t bad if we turn to Him, it is hard, but not bad.
A friend of mine 5 years ago dove into the ocean. He hit his head on the bottom and broke his neck. He was never supposed to walk again. This truly was a tragedy. Through a series of healings from God, and a lot of hard work he now can do many things. He isn’t completely better, check out the process http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DivRJm65ADc. What you don’t see in the video are 2 things. 1. How athletic and active he was before the accident. Jamie truly suffers every time his kids do sports, because (while he can walk) he can’t be active with them. 2. You don’t see the inner struggle with God. A few weeks ago He told me that asking “WHY” was the most harmful part of the process. He would go over and over it in his head—”God why did this happen?”—the dark places this took him to were not worth asking the question. It’s best to look to Jesus and say, “Now what?” “Now what are we going to do, how do I need to respond?”
Suffering in today’s post-modern American society is a matter of perspective. Suffering is closely linked to our feelings, specifically our deep desire to be happy in every circumstance. It is important to know that suffering is okay. Perhaps it is better to say, we don’t always have to be happy. J.P. Moreland writes that, “Pleasurable satisfaction makes a very poor lifetime goal; it is, however, a wonderful by product of striving after happiness in the classical sense.“ (J.P Moreland and Klaus Issler) My striving for happiness motivates me to do all kinds of things that aren’t good for me. For example, I like to be happy before bed, so I would eat, because when I am full I am happier than when I am hungry. Well, that kind of thinking got me to a weight of 305 lbs. If I find happiness in food, then I will become obese. At one point in my Christian walk, I believed that if I was happy, I had to be doing things the way God wanted me to do. I bought into this thinking and believed that it was the truth, but the truth is that God is not concerned about us being happy all the time.
Part of the Christian walk is going through hard and difficult times and learning and growing from those experiences. In the last few years, I have been learning that suffering is okay and that suffering is good, and that suffering makes me more like Jesus. James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” What James wrote about is that it is a good thing to go through difficult times. It builds character. In fact, if our eyes are on Jesus He will use the suffering to build character. Just like the scriptures say, “all things work together for good to those who love God, who have been called according to his purpose.”(Romans 8:28, NASB)Through my character-building times, I have learned to be at His feet. Without doubt, I want to be at His feet all the time, even in good times.
Peter Fitch of St. Stephens University says, “Some suffering is due to the fact that we live in a fallen world, some because of evil or selfish acts, but there is some suffering God gives to wayward people in the hope that they will truly return to Him and cry out in their time of need.”I believe to survive suffering one must realize a Biblical truth: God likes me; He is for me, He is on my side. Wow, He really is, and if I take my moments of suffering to Him, he will turn it for the good. Without this fundamental truth, relationship with Him is lost or on the verge of loss.
We need to get away from the culture that tells us that if we are not happy, then we should change what we are doing. This is why the divorce rate is so high, this is why most church growth is from people moving from church to church, and this is why drug and alcohol abuse is on the rise. We search for things to make us happy. When we don’t find happiness, we continue to look elsewhere when we should be looking to God. The main point I want to get across is: don’t give up so easily. The road to true Christian maturity is through following Jesus no matter what you’re experiencing, not through happiness. God is on our side. Lance Pittluck, senior pastor at Vineyard Anaheim, always says, “God has a plan for every man.” Let’s learn to believe this, let’s get this into the core of who we are, let’s trust that God truly knows what He is doing.
What are your thoughts on suffering? Also, what about suffering for those that don’t follow Jesus? I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment.