Friday, December 12, 2008

Suffering: Friend or Foe?

It is interesting how some words look and sound like their meaning. Take the word "Joy." It is a great word that is fun to say. When I say the word, it makes me feel a little better. Happiness is another of those kinds of words. Or take the words "beautiful" and "ugly." See what I mean? Or how about this word: suffering. It just doesn't produce those warm, tingly feelings on the inside, does it?

And regardless how you feel about that word it is a reality that we each must face from time to time. It may be physical pain and suffering or it may be suffering of a broken heart. It may be the suffering of a prolonged season of bad circumstances that drive you to the edge.

There are some who believe that if you commit your life to Jesus Christ that he promises to take away your suffering and your problems. It is the sentiment of him being some kind of Giant Fixer. But the reality is that suffering is a part of our human and Christian experience. Jesus said, "In this world you will have trouble" (John 16:33, NIV). In fact, the prophet Isaiah said of the coming Messiah, "He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering" (Isaiah 63:3, NIV).

Unfortunately, many within the Christian community have this idea that when you live for Christ he will reward you by making your life trouble-free.

This simply is not the case. In fact, scripture promises just the opposite. Consider these passages:

Philippians 1:29, NIV
For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him....


1 Peer 4:12, NIV
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.


Matthew 5:45, NIV
God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.


Everyone's life is filled with sunshine and rain. Sunshine isn't always evidence that God favors you--even the evil get some sunshine. Rain isn't evidence that God is punishing you--even the righteous have to face the rain. Suffering is a part of life that everyone must endure. However, when it comes to suffering, Christians have some advantages. The obvious one is that God will help you through hard times. A second advantage is that no matter what kind of problems you face, God has promised to use them for your benefit, and for his glory.

The Bible says, "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28, NIV). So when you suffer, whether it is illness, mistreatment, job problems, relationship problems, money problems, or whatever it may be, it is crucial that you approach your suffering with the right attitude, so that you will ultimately benefit from the problems you face. What is the right attitude? The Bible says, "... but we also rejoice in our sufferings..." (Romans 5:3, NIV).

This is the attitude that we must have whenever we face hard times. An attitude of rejoicing. Now, don't misunderstand me. Our attitude doesn't have to be some kind of phony, Pollyanna way of thinking that says, "Hooray for me. I am suffering! I'm in pain and my life is coming apart at the seams. Aren't I lucky?" This is not what the Bible means. We don't rejoice because of our sufferings, or for our sufferings--we rejoice in spite of our sufferings. This would sound like crazy advice, except there are two factors that make rejoicing in suffering a reasonable idea: First, God will help you through the problems. Second, your problems themselves will help you too, and work to your advantage.

Think of it this way. Pretend that you are prisoner of war and you have an evil taskmaster who tries to make you weak and powerless by forcing you to carry a heavy boulder on your shoulders all day. Some of your fellow prisoners give in under the strain, and stop trying, and let the boulder crush them completely. But you keep carrying the weight. Soon you discover that carrying that boulder isn't making you weaker, it's making you stronger. Eventually you have the strength to cast the boulder aside and overpower your captor and earn your freedom.

This is exactly what your problems can do for you. You can give up and let your problems destroy you, or you can use them to become a stronger and better person. No one in their right mind would choose to suffer, but when it happens, we can rejoice in the fact that the suffering isn't going to beat us; we will eventually win the battle.

This is why we rejoice in suffering; because there are certain benefits that we can claim whenever we are faced with it.

In the next few posts, we're going to try and answer the question, "What good is suffering? There are three advantages to suffering that we'll look at and I hope you'll find them helpful. By the end I hope the "S" word won't look so ugly.

1 comment:

Pam Hall said...

James,
I agree with your comments on Joy. I just wanted to add to your possible comments on "Hope". You noticed our angel of hope on our tree. That angel was huge the first Christmas I was divorced.

Just to give you some background. My dad was an atheist philosophy professor and I grew up in a Unitarian Church. I was 16 when I met Silas' dad and I married him as soon as I graduated from college. I never lived on my own. I never dated. I never lived had my own apartment. Silas’ dad in a lot of ways was my “god”. My live revolved around making him happy. When he was in the first Gulf War I joined a United Methodist Church and God become the center of my universe. I was so excited that there was a God that loved me no matter what and He became my God. Needless to say this was a big change for Silas’ dad, as was the birth of Silas and taking back stage to our child and to my God…OK, trying to make a long story short, Silas’ Dad decide that he didn’t want to be married any more after 20 years of marriage. And I after being madly in love since I was 16, I was on my own. Being almost 40 and single I needed Hope and Joy. And Hope and Joy is what God gave me.

I know people deal with much bigger tragedies than divorce. But to me, living on my own was huge! Hope and Joy are what made it possible for me to go on. Jer 29:11 as well as many other verses made it possible for me to carry on. The angel on top of my tree proclaimed God’s Hope and God’s Word screamed Hope and Joy, that was all I needed. I spent a year getting closer to God and knowing that God would provide for me no matter what. I can’t tell you how much I wrote in my prayer journal and how much God lead me. I went on a mission’s trip to Ukraine and did many, many Bible studies.

Again trying to make a long story short God showed me “there would be trouble” but “ He would be with me”. I met Kenny and now my life is amazing!!! Many people asked once I remarried, “Are you happy now?” and I want to scream. It’s not about “happy”; it’s about HOPE and JOY which is so much more than happy. God is amazing in “happy” and “terrifying” times. God is awesome! I didn’t love having my life crazy, but I grew closer to God through it and I would not trade that time for anything! Am I happy now? Yes, but only because though the process I learned that there is a God that loves me no matter what, that there is a Book that proclaims His love, and there is a God that is bigger than Happy…a God of Joy and Hope!