Why must we deal with suffering? This is a question we are all familiar with, isn’t it? And people from Christian and non-Christian circles alike have attempted to answer it.
One thing I do understand about suffering, is that it is a result from the Fall. If you look back in Genesis 3, you will see the consequences of sin spelled out and how they affect mankind as well as the earth. And in Romans 8:22-23 “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” We have been waiting since that day to be completely delivered from the sufferings that were caused by that first sin.
Christians sometimes believe they ought to be immune to troubles, but this idea is simply not biblical. To be told “ if you had enough faith” or “you must have done something terrible to deserve this” does not line up with what the Bible tells us. We are told time and time again that we will meet trouble and times of trial or even have to endure periods of intense suffering. And the Scripture does not say if your faith is large enough or if you manage to not sin in a certain way you will be able to avoid it.
G.K. Chesterton wrote “Jesus promised the disciples three things – that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy and in constant trouble.” In John 16:33, Jesus gave the disciples a promise of suffering – “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Note that surrounding the suffering, Jesus promises His peace and power. We would do well to remember that in our own times of suffering, His peace and power are there surrounding us, protecting us, comforting us through that time.
When I was in high school, I would say that my life was pretty lacking in suffering. All I would qualify at that time at suffering would probably be the loss of my grandmother at age 8, being relocated twice, and having to make new friends due to Dad being called to 2 new churches. Rather insignificant in degree when you compare it to the amount of suffering that other people have had to deal with, so I realize that I have been rather blessed in my life when it comes to the subject. One day after my Dad had a checkup and some blood work, we had some alarming news – the doctor was concerned about the possibility of yes, you guessed it, the “C” word. You can imagine the questions that were going around in my head. “Isn’t Dad too young for cancer? How could this happen? He seems healthy enough… What’s going to happen next? Why now? Why him? What did he do to deserve this?” The doctor scheduled a biopsy, and Dad went for the appointment and then the waiting for the results commenced – and the waiting was even longer then than it is now – it seem like forever! In that period of waiting, I asked those very questions to God. I had been a Christian for several years, and even had learned to be faithful to read my Bible and pray, but never did I pray like I did then. I had a bathroom in my room in our house in Hot Springs, and I remember not wanting Mom and Dad to find me, so I went into that bathroom and prayed like I never did before. I had been on my knees in prayer before, but it was more of a practice instead of a need to be completely humble before Him. I was on my face before Him before I knew it – weeping for understanding, for healing if Dad needed it, for comfort for the days to come. Never had I felt more comfort than I did after that experience – we still had to wait for the results, but no matter what the answers were, I believed God would take care of us. Later on the results revealed no cancer – it was almost as if God gave me the answer before we even had the results.
Fast forward about 10 years later and another doctor informing us that this time he did see evidence of cancer in another part of Dad’s body. Realize that in this 10 years I have been to college and Med Tech school and have more knowledge of the human body and how it works. The question was “How do you want to proceed?” Everyone looked at me… I took a deep breath and in that moment, I flashed to that same peace I had with Dad’s first cancer scare. And although this time we had a definite diagnosis, I believed that God could either heal Dad with His own hand or through modern medicine – however He saw fit, but also that if He chose to take Dad from this earth through this cancer, it would be of a purpose. And the cancer did have a purpose. Dad had surgery and chemotherapy, is still as fit as ever, but now he has a way to minister to those who have or have had cancer, because he has been there. He often will sit with church members who are getting chemo so they don’t have to do it alone. He takes baked bread and cookies to the receptionists and nurses at the clinic who he once saw so often. His trial and his faith through it is an avenue for witnessing for Christ that many of us may never experience.
Another passage that promises that we will face times of suffering is James 1:2-4 ”Count it all joy, my brothers,when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Notice that James doesn’t say “if someday by chance you might possibly run into trouble”. He says “Brothers, you are going to come face to face with trouble, but don’t run from it – look upon it with joy. And here is why – those trials test your faith and show it to be firm in the Lord – mature, complete, with no deficiencies.”
Why are we tested in school? To find out what we have learned or not learned, right? To see what we really understand and what we have just skipped over and not paid attention to? When you perform badly on a test, it will point you back to what you need to review on, especially if it’s a concept on which the material in the future will build. Just think about being tested on some sort of higher math if you didn’t understand basic math or even basic algebra. If the testing of your faith produces some steadfastness or endurance and you don’t do so hot at the tests, then it’s hard for your faith to become fully mature or complete. I guess what I am saying is that we need to learn to face some of our smaller problems or trials with the Lord’s help, because it will build upon our faith and help us in days of harder struggles.
Another thing I understand about suffering – we are not alone when we go through it. Isaiah 43:2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” and Psalm 46:1 “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” – These verses are excellent reminders that God is with us.
We also need to remember that Christ is no stranger to suffering Himself. He is the ultimate of empathizers. While He was on this earth, He experienced all the pain and disappointment that you and I experience, yet without sin. He was separated from family and I am sure He was homesick. He mourned the loss of a close friend. He experienced rejection from His own countrymen, and was misunderstood by even those closest to Him. He was accused of blaspheming His own Father, mocked, beaten, whipped, and humiliated in every way imaginable. Then He was crucified. While He was on the cross He bore the weight of the world’s sin upon Himself.
We in our suffering often ask the questions “How could this happen?” or “Why me?” or “Why now?”. If you listen to the song I’ve posted, in the bridge it says “Jesus, in Your suffering, You were reaching. You thought of me.” What an incredible thought – that on the cross, instead of dwelling on His pain and suffering, He would have been thinking about what His sacrifice would do for all of mankind– He thought of you and me.