When people speak of going through suffering, they usually mean they are experiencing bad things. The bad news is that bad things happen to everyone. They have nothing to do with whether you are a good person or a bad person, how well you have taken charge of your life. The good news is that good things happen to everyone too! The question however we must ask is not why bad things happen to good people but how are we to respond when calamity unexpectedly strikes us?
Gerald May, a Psychiatrist who studied the dark night experience of two sixteenth century saints John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila related his own dark night in his book “The Dark Night of the Soul” he says “I was diagnosed with cancer in 1995; which I thought was a bad thing. But the experience brought me closer to God and to my loved ones than I’d ever been, and that was wonderfully good. The chemotherapy felt awful, but it is resulted in a complete cure, which I decided was good. I later found out it may have also caused the heart disease that now has me waiting for a heart transplant. At some point I gave up trying to decide what’s ultimately good or bad. I truly do not know.”
You might not be going through the same experience but an equally a painful one. How are you responding to it? Are you over spiritualizing it saying it is God’s will that you should suffer? Or rebuking the devil thinking that he is out there to get you? Or trying to fix it with all your might? Or denying it completely as if nothing is happening to you? Or condemning yourself with the thoughts of “what have I done wrong”? Can you imagine what it would have been like if Christ responded wrongly when he was being crucified? Or the apostles and the early believers when they were persecuted? You and I wouldn't be here talking about suffering.
The Apostle Paul explains what should be our response when bad things happen to us in Romans 8:35-39. (Read) What was the context in which Paul said these priceless statements? We read in Romans 5:1-5, “we have been justified through faith; we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” What incredible truths are these for a believer to remember! “We have been justified through faith” which means now God looks at us as if we have never sinned. “We have peace with God” which means once we were enemies of God but now we become his friends. We have 24 hour access to God. We stand in God’s grace not in condemnation.
Coming back to the subject of suffering; what does the Bible say about suffering? The question of suffering is one of the hardest issues to face for many people, particularly those who generally believe in a kind and loving God, and perhaps even more-so in a culture where people more and more often get what they want and live relatively safe and secure lives. Let’s look at several scriptures to develop a healthy view on suffering, and why God might allow suffering at times and what comfort do we have when we suffer.
A. HEALTHY VIEW ON SUFFERING?
There was a time when sickness and suffering did not exist; every thing was perfect, and harmonious, until man sinned against God. The consequences of sin were fear, shame, suffering, sorrow and death. There will come again a time where sorrow, pain and death will be completely taken away. “and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer by any mourning; or crying or pain.” Rev 21:4. What a glorious day that will be. If you are a Christian then that promise is for you. However, for this present time, we must face the undeniable fact that people do suffer. That's a fact of life. You can find sickness, sorrow, and suffering in all walks of life. It's everywhere you look.
This very moment either you yourself or you can probably think of someone very close to you who is suffering greatly, and it just doesn't seem fair. When we go through suffering or when we see someone we love suffering our human nature is to ask questions such as why does God allow it to happen? We wonder does God even care. As I searched the scriptures I found a few possible reasons why God might allow his children to suffer.
B. WHY DOES GOD ALLOW SUFFERING?
On this side of heaven we may never fully understand the reason why people suffer. However the Scriptures do give us some understanding about suffering. Firstly, our suffering may be for the salvation of souls: Remember the story of Lazarus the brother of Martha and Mary? What did Jesus say to his disciples when the news came to him saying that Lazarus was very sick? “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God.” John 11:4, when he raised Lazarus from the dead, we read in Vs 45, “Many therefore of the Jews, who had come to Mary and beheld what He had done, believed in Him.” God used my grand mother’s death to save me; otherwise I wouldn’t be serving Him today.
If we believed some of the faith healers today, we would believe that people suffer because of sin or lack of faith, which is simply not true. Did the Apostle Paul sin or did he lack faith that he suffered much in his life? No! Secondly, God allows suffering to teach us valuable lessons. II Cor 12:6-10, “So tremendous, however, were the revelations that God gave me that, in order to prevent my becoming absurdly conceited, I was given a physical handicap one of Satan’s angels to harass me and effectually stop any conceit. Three times I begged the Lord for it to leave me, but his reply has been, “My grace is enough for you: for where there is weakness, my power is shown the more completely… Therefore, I can even enjoy weaknesses, suffering, privations, persecutions and difficulties for Christ’s sake.” JB Philips New Testament
Thirdly, God uses suffering to make us stronger. Paul tells us in II Timothy 2:3 “Suffer hardship with me as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” It is as if Paul was saying to Timothy, welcome to the club of suffering! Suffering is a type of Baptism of fire for any one who wants to join the army of Christ. You know, many times a drill sergeant will put a soldier through some things just to make him tough, just to see how much he's willing to take--how dedicated he is. There may not seem to be any logical reason for the trouble that we often face, but God always has a reason. Sometimes He's just trying to make us tougher.
Fourthly, God uses suffering to teach us patience or long suffering According to Galatians 5:22, a Spirit-filled Christian is supposed to be LONG SUFFERING Are you long suffering If you want to cultivate this fruit of the Spirit then don’t despise suffering instead rejoice because only through suffering we learn to be patient. In Romans 5: 3-5, “We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next.” The Message.
You may be screaming in your heart saying this is all great for you pastor to say; you don’t understand what I am going through. What respite is there; if there is any in suffering? Yes there is comfort in suffering.
C. WHAT IS OUR COMFORT IN SUFFERING?
Let’s face it! No suffering is pleasant and enjoyable. It is rather tough; painful and could even lead to a point of vexation and to death. As we learned so far that suffering is universal; has no demographics and age limit and it is going to be there until Christ returns it would only help us if we learn to embrace it joyfully instead of complaining and even getting angry at God.
If you think you are the only one is suffering you are mistaken; Peter says “believers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” (I Pet 5:9) what should be our response to suffering? James says like Job we must “persevere” (James 5:11) Hebrew 12:6-7, tells us that we must endure hardship as discipline and God is treating us as his children and out of his love for us He disciplines us. What is our comfort in our suffering?
The rewards once we go through suffering outweigh the pain and the process of it. James says “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” If we want to be mature and lack no good thing in life then we must let perseverance complete its work; let’s not short cut the process of suffering; let’s not throw in the towel too quickly and let’s not quit so soon. But what comfort do we have during suffering? Who actually keep us sane in the midst of it and help us to go through it without quitting?
My friend I don’t know what suffering you may be going through at this very moment; hang in there; know that God loves you and won’t give up on you so easily. Let the words of encourage you so that nothing can separate you from the love God when you go through suffering. Let me read those words in closing. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” What assuring words are these? There is nothing in this world can take God’s love from you. May the Lord be gracious to you and give you strength so that you too will become more than a conqueror! Amen