By Steven Clark Goad
God washes the eyes with tears until they can behold the invisible land where tears shall come no more.
—Henry Ward Beecher
No person is immune. It comes with the territory. Suffering surrounds us and invades our lives unremittingly. There is no escape from it. And when it appears, it almost seems arbitrary.
Helen Keller was robbed of her hearing and sight by a childhood illness. Yet she overcame her difficulties and is an iconic figure to us. Nick Vujicic, the great young evangelist, was born without arms or legs. Who on earth deserves such a disadvantage? Yet he has risen above his disability and has become an inspiration to millions.
We know that “if any suffer as a Christian” they will be blessed (1 Peter 4:16). But I am not addressing this kind of distress. Nor am I addressing the kind of anguish that comes from our own inability to keep from being rude and occasionally obnoxious. We deserve what we get when we treat others shabbily. My concern is for us to think about how God can use the plight of human suffering to enable us and strengthen us.
Suffering is a teacher, and a harsh one. None of us wants to suffer or to see our children suffering. But what if suffering is necessary for gaining our ultimate goal, salvation? What if we must suffer to really know God? What if suffering is an essential part of our walk with God and the crucial training ground for our faith?
Suffering teaches us dependence and obedience. We learn through illnesses, accidents, and heartbreaks that we are not in control of the things that invade our routines without warning. We must rely on God. Even Jesus “learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8, New King James Version). In suffering we discover our ability to relinquish misplaced confidence in our bodies, our finances, our abilities, and other people. Instead, we depend on the eternal God more devotedly.
Suffering teaches us to care about others and serves as a powerful example to them. My elder friend lost two sons-in-law within a two-year period. The strength I saw in that man and his daughters was remarkable. Through experience with pain, we learn to empathize. Through personal encounter we come to understand how others struggle and how we may reach out to help. In addition, exhibiting strong faith and continuing to praise God during our suffering often proves a tremendous encouragement and blessing to others.
Just Passing Through
This world is not our permanent home. Affliction and misery remind us of our heavenly home that awaits. Heaven is our goal and suffering aids us in remembering.
If life were nothing but one euphoric high after another, we wouldn’t long to see the face of God some day. I am able to enjoy the gorgeous winters of the desert southwest more because of my experience with the permafrost and snows of Indiana and Michigan.
Our purpose in life is not to have an easy ride or grab for all the gusto we can obtain. Without the suffering of the cross, there would be no future for any of us. Without Christ, life is a hopeless end; with Christ, life is an endless hope. It may seem absurd on the surface of it, but human suffering is a training ground that can mature the most rebellious. Pearls display their beauty because of pain.
Jim had broken many hearts with his charm. After years of revolving door relationships he finally settled down with the gal of his dreams. His eventual lack of devotion led her to find affection from someone else. Jim was devastated. He had not known what it felt like to be treated unfairly. His heart was broken. Yet through that experience, and with much prayer and counseling, he was able to reconcile with his wife. Now he sees life through a different lens. He treats his wife more tenderly. Why? Through the agony of marital dysfunction he was brought to his senses and given a marvelous new perspective.
Do We Embrace it?
What shall we believers do about our own suffering? The first thing we can do is to accept it as part of our journey to Heaven. Expect it. Anticipate it. Prepare for it. Nobody will avoid it. Consider it a blessing in disguise. It is by way of suffering we are humbled and strengthened. Our faith grows stronger. Our dependence is more recognizable. As the refiner’s fire does its work, so we are purified and perfected in the furnace of affliction.
There is no greater instructor of patience than the university of suffering. It brings out the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. We become more sensitive to others. We are kinder. Our patience is enlarged. Any life without some torment or anguish would be disastrous. If everything, from birth to death, hummed along without incident, what kind of people would we be? Leo Tolstoy said, “It is by those who have suffered that the world has been advanced.”
If suffering is part of the package called life, is it wrong to try to avoid suffering? No. Behaving in safe and healthful ways is wise and prudent.
As to the suffering of others, we lovingly endeavor to lessen it. Providing hope and help to the weary, frightened, and afflicted is our noble calling. While we are safe, happy, and well, we should be especially vigilant so that when our turn comes to suffer, we don’t have to wonder where we can find help.
Surely we must remember that change is inevitable; nothing remains fixed and stagnant. The world of yesterday will never be relived. Yet we know that with God all things are possible. Our impossible circumstances are not impossible for the Father. Other people can understand how we feel and can help us endure and gain hopeful relief. Ask them.
When We Suffer
We should consider what spiritual lessons we can learn from our present trials and be sure we learn them. Focus on the positives and opportunities that result from our circumstance. There are some. Know in our hearts that everything really will be OK. “All things work together for good to those who love the Lord,” reminds Paul.
God’s Word has never promised to shelter us from the hazards and pitfalls of life. So rather than curse them, use them for our own growth and to the glory of the Father.
By the way, suffering is only a problem for believers. Think about it. Atheists have no complaint or right to question anything that befalls them. Why? Because they think life is just a big cosmic accident anyway. Only we who love and trust in the Lord sometimes have misgivings about why we must endure some of the hardships we experience. Hallelujah anyway!
Steven Clark Goad is a minister and freelance writer in Blythe, California.
How to Grow Through Suffering
Authentic Grace for Life: “Growing Through Suffering”
“Suffering as a Means of Growth” by Dennis McCallum and Gary DeLashmutt
“Spiritual Growth Through Major Adversity: People Transformed Healthily by Suffering are Characterised by Acceptance” by Larry Culliford
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