One of the things that makes suffering so hard is that — often — it seems so utterly pointless. It doesn’t feel noble or heroic at the time.
Especially when it’s you.
Especially when you wonder if it’s your fault — if you feel you somehow brought it on yourself. Or that you deserve it.
Maybe even more especially when you know you didn’t — you don’t.
I’ve been there… I really have. Every which way and way too many times to count. I own an entire closet full of the Tshirts. And I don’t ever want to be one of those well-meaning people who spouts wornout cliches to other people in pain.
I don’t want to be someone who tries too hard to have all the answers, to make sense and meaning out of things that make no earthly sense… Someone who tries to explain or defend God (for allowing something awful to happen) and ends up sounding like they’re ignoring or excusing or rationalizing evil. God doesn’t need me to do that and neither do people who are suffering.
Sometimes the best thing you can do is just sit there… sit there in the pain, in the questions, in the misery and mystery of it all. “Weep with those who weep…” (Romans 12:15)
But there comes a time (when you’re ready) when you discover that –as awful as the cliches are — on some level, they’re true. God DOES work all things together for the good of those who love Him. Suffering is never pointless. It does serve a purpose… a lot of purposes.
God uses our suffering to accomplish some amazing things, and when we see that… it gives us hope.
We see enough that we can trust God with what we can’t see.
I don’t believe that what doesn’t kill us necessarily makes us stronger… I’ve seen a lot of walking wounded. A lot of bitter, angry people who seem emotionally or spiritually maimed for life. But I believe we CAN come out of suffering stronger, if we submit ourselves to the Great Physician, the Lord Our Healer.
Suffering can teach us wisdom, humility, kindness, compassion, patience, endurance, self-discipline, love and mercy — and a host of other virtues. It can make us better people, people who look a lot more like Jesus. And it can motivate us to make a real difference in the world, in the lives of others who are suffering.
Suffering can deepen our relationship with God, draw us closer to Him, into a greater dependence on Him, lead us to a level of faith and trust we never knew existed.
Suffering can deepen our relationship with others. Some relationships don’t survive times of suffering — it’s true. But others grow so much stronger, because of what we’ve been through together.
Suffering can help us see what really matters — what our true priorities are. We don’t sweat the small stuff anymore.
In the Church, suffering (and persecution) tends to do three things:
1) It gets rid of the pretenders — the people who are there because it’s a feel-good place to hang out and have coffee with their friends or to connect with potential clients / patients / customers (people who, because they don’t have a real relationship with Jesus and are not truly followers of Christ, cause all kinds of hurt and division and strife in the local body — especially when they end up in leadership positions)… And 2) It causes genuine believers to get serious about living what we say we believe — on a deeper level than we ever have before. We become more and more focused on God and His eternal Kingdom and less focused on material things. We stop taking shots at each other and stand together in true unity and love. We sacrificially give and serve and lay down our lives as necessary… And 3) It causes the gospel to spread like wildfire! (See number 2)
There many examples in Scripture of times when suffering was the result of people’s sin — and many examples of times when it clearly (explicitly says it) wasn’t. But EITHER WAY God used it for their good and His glory.
In the end, it didn’t really matter… it didn’t matter whether anyone was at fault or not, whether anyone could make sense of their suffering or not. All that mattered was their response.
“Therefore I will always have hope…”
In every single case, suffering ALWAYS gives us an opportunity to draw closer to God — to fellowship in the sufferings of Jesus — and to bring glory to His Name.
That’s why WHENEVER we face times of suffering, we can have hope. We can truly rejoice! I think that’s the point.
Virtual VBS Assignment:
We’re in Week Four of Five in our free online summer Bible study, Virtual VBS for GrownUp Girls: Holding on to Hope… When Life Is Hard. If you’re participating, here are your instructions for this week:
For more tips on getting the most out of your Bible reading, see Five Simple Ways to Focus on the Words You Read