By Steven Clark Goad
We know the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains
of childbirth right up to the present time (Romans 8:22).
How can we rejoice in the Lord when we’re in constant pain? Is it possible to stay cheerful and positive in the middle of unremitting suffering and maladies beyond our control? How can we maintain a vibrant faith when we’re hurting?
Jesus was candid about the suffering his followers would face. But he also told them they would be blessed abundantly and their joy would be made full. It sounds almost oxymoronic to say we can have joy while suffering.
Who can believe it?
The answer can be found in the life of Christ himself. He said, “I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things” (John 8:28, New King James Version). He faced the same hardships we face today. He got splinters. He was hungry when his disciples reminded him it was past lunchtime. He replied, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34). One reason we struggle with pain is that we often forget why we are here. Our purpose is not to live a life among roses with no thorns.
We have been pampering ourselves so lavishly for decades that now when the bills must be paid we find ourselves insolvent, not only as a nation, but often as individuals. Many of us have lived sheltered lives. We live in a society of entitlements. We are provided with the best food, clothes, and medical care whether we work or not.
Dave Ramsey, CEO of Financial Peace University and radio and TV personality, said,
If the U.S. Government was a family, they would be making $58,000 a year, they would be spending $75,000 a year, and are $327,000 in credit card debt. They are currently proposing BIG spending cuts to reduce their spending to $72,000 per year. These are the actual proportions of the federal budget and debt, reduced to a level that we can understand.
What Is Suffering?
We have lost the concept of what suffering entails. Some might think it is going without bottled water for a day. Or going without getting our nails done this week. Or being unable to buy season tickets to our favorite sporting event. Or having a toothache. Or not being able to buy three times the house we can afford with our present income.
There is little joy to be found in having unrealistic expectations of what we are to possess in this transient life. It appears everybody wants to eat at the government’s table, but few are willing to do the dishes. I know a Christian couple who are being challenged in their faith. Their baby boy was born with a hole in his heart. His chances for survival without surgery are nil and they have no health insurance to cover the expensive surgery.
Tyson Gosch had just moved with his wife and five children, ages 3 months to 8 years, from California to a new job in Texas. Jenny, with a newborn on her breast, became ill. She rushed to an emergency clinic. Within days she was dead, leaving Tyson with five little ones to parent by himself. He faces indescribable heartache.
Have We Grown Soft?
Many of us have grown weak and feeble. We find air-conditioning comfort and full bellies the norm rather than the exception. Our standard of living over the past decades has been phenomenal. Rarely do we understand the hunger and poverty that is within a shadow of our doorsteps.
We have been trying to help a prison inmate. He grew up in the church. He had advantages many did not. But his drug lifestyle found him repeatedly behind prison walls. After years of attempts to help him reform, it occurred to us that the words “work” and “jobs” were not part of his vocabulary. Last time I mentioned his getting a job, he replied, “I am hoping to get some kind of aid when I get out.” Our handouts have ceased. We have decided not to facilitate his high expectations of life without pain.
I was born to be the butt of short jokes. At 5’ 7” I recall not being able to play power forward on my Indianapolis high school basketball team with the Van Arsdale twins. It’s enough to make one weep. Missing those necessary tall genes and now follicly challenged to boot, I should be wringing my hands as I type. Some of us have to create pity parties in order to solicit sympathy.
Nick Vujicic was born without arms or legs. The only thing on his body that remotely resembles a limb is something like a toe or flipper extending from his hip. He’s been stared at all his life. Mocked more than the elephant man, he lived a life of doubt and wonder. Though raised in a Christian home with all the love and care his parents could provide, he had horrible doubts about God and life.
Nick founded a ministry called Life Without Limbs. He is an inspiration to anyone who is having a bad hair day or actually struggling with physical maladies. If Nick can be that positive with what life and circumstances dealt him, then I must rethink some of the miniscule matters that cause me personal grief.
The Faith Healer
Faith is not only a beginning point in our walk with God; it renews us as we allow it to grow. Paul describes it as a “faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6). Every trial calls for faith. Obedience in the face of suffering strengthens us and prepares us for even greater trials. It was Jesus’ formula for obedience under stress. It can be ours as well.
The more we live to please the Father and serve others, the more we are at odds with the world. And whenever a new hardship or new form of suffering presents itself, the more precious will be the faith that grows and sustains us.
Discipline in Suffering
Those who bend under the pressure of suffering are robbing themselves of the maturity that comes with it. When we follow Christ, we must accept the growing pains of change and obedience. The discipline he demands of us may be severe, but with it comes his love and aid, and in the end eternal life.
Jesus never hinted that we would have a recliner of ease throughout life. He offers the same struggles he encountered. “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Hebrews 12:2, New International Version). Even the apostles who were imprisoned for proclaiming the gospel were “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41).
Our Pain Threshold
How much pain would you have to endure before you lost your faith? Would you be defeated by cancer, the loss of your job, the loss of your home, or the death of a beloved mate?
Life offers no guarantee for the faithful except
eternity with God. Jesus told Martha, “One thing is needful.” That “one thing” is still our pursuit and our hope for living. It is ours whether we endure much or little pain.
All that led the great evangelist Charles Templeton to lose his faith was to see the lifeless body of a baby in the arms of his starving mother. That image stuck in his mind and caused him to turn away “from a God who would allow such suffering to exist in the world.” May we be sure that Satan has no weapon in his arsenal that would cause us to turn our backs on God.
Steven Clark Goad is a freelance writer in Blythe, California.
Ministries Born from Suffering
Learn more about the ministry of Nick Vujicic:
Here are two other ministries led by people who have endured physical suffering:
Joni Eareckson Tada (who became a quadriplegic following a diving accident) has founded many ministries for people with disabilities.
Ginny Owens (who had a disease that left her blind at age 3) has a ministry of music and a humanitarian aid foundation.