Making Sense of Suffering
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One of the counterintuitive truths about suffering is that it prepares Christians for more glory. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:17–18, “This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
These verses are like sandpaper on our modern sentiments about suffering. We naturally try to avoid suffering at all costs. But God brings suffering into our lives for the sake of our eternal joy—yes, even glory.—Joseph Scheumann
As I look back over my life, those simple, light-hearted days are not the ones for which I am most grateful. I’m most grateful for the days when I had to fight for faith. The days I’ve called out to God in desperation and pain. The days I have barely survived, struggled to make it through, wondered if life was worth it, after all. The days that have driven me to my knees. These have molded my character, grown my dependence, and made me see Jesus.
For me, gratitude for those days is often in retrospect. Looking back, I can rejoice at what God wrought through my trials. When the pain is gone and only the fruit remains, I see the value of my suffering. …
I have learned from saints, living and dead, that I need to thank God for my deepest suffering. Believers who have thanked God for blindness, for prison, and for quadriplegia. Unthinkable suffering, which most would consider unbearable, these Christ-followers have seen as God’s gifts.
Gifts wrapped in black, but gifts nonetheless.—Vaneetha Rendall Risner1
There was no better man than Paul to give advice about endurance under suffering for the Lord Jesus. Paul had been imprisoned, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, hungry, cold, and destitute.2 In spite of all this and more, Paul managed to endure the suffering, finish the race, and keep the faith.3
Hardships come in a variety of ways. Temptations, illnesses, lost jobs, broken relationships, and persecution for one’s faith are all forms of hardship. Christians should not be taken by surprise when hardships come; Jesus warned us, “In this world you will have trouble.”4 The good news is that Jesus followed up His warning with this word of encouragement: “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” We can endure by His grace. …
Paul’s response to suffering was not to buckle under the weight of circumstance but to realize Christ has called His church to endure hardship.5 … Every time Paul was beaten, chained, or hungry, he identified more with Christ in his flesh. Paul could rejoice because suffering in his flesh for the sake of the church is a privilege of sharing in the sufferings of Christ.6
As Christians, we should turn to God with our suffering, and He will be faithful to help us undergo every trial and overcome every temptation.7 We can learn to have the same joy that Paul had during trials, knowing that suffering produces virtues such as endurance, godly character, and lively hope.8
To “endure” does not mean simply to grin and bear it. Christians will feel sad, betrayed, or even angry at times. These emotions in and of themselves are not bad; they only become sin when we allow them to take root in our lives and produce bitterness, evil thoughts of revenge, or unforgiveness. Believers must remember that everything that comes into our lives is under the control of a sovereign God who has promised He is working all things out for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.9
Jesus is the ultimate example of someone who endured hardship.10 … Jesus, in spite of great suffering, never turned back, even from the cross.11 Hebrews 12:2 says Jesus endured the cross “for the joy set before him.” Although Christ knew the suffering the cross would provide, His anticipated joy enabled Him to keep going; He knew what the rewards would be—the redemption of mankind and a seat at the right hand of God. In the same way, Christians can find hope to endure when we consider the rewards God has promised us. “Do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For, ‘In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.’”12—From gotquestions.org13
Christianity teaches that, contra fatalism, suffering is overwhelming; contra Buddhism, suffering is real; contra karma, suffering is often unfair; but contra secularism, suffering is meaningful. There is a purpose to it, and if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine. …
Jesus lost all his glory so that we could be clothed in it. He was shut out so we could get access. He was bound, nailed, so that we could be free. He was cast out so we could approach. And Jesus took away the only kind of suffering that can really destroy you: that is being cast away from God. He took that so that now all suffering that comes into your life will only make you great. A lump of coal under pressure becomes a diamond. And the suffering of a person in Christ only turns you into somebody gorgeous.—Timothy Keller14
In order to bring forth the sweetness, there has to be some suffering. To bring about the beauty of the flame, there must be ashes. Something must go to ashes!
Blessings come from suffering—beauty for ashes—as is borne out so well in Hebrews 12. Verse 11 says, “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.”
Lord, help us not to fight Thy crushing, Thy bruising, Thy smiting, which causes the water to gush forth. Help us not to quench that beautiful song, even if it’s sad. Help us to thank Thee in spite of the sorrow. Help us to be willing to be smitten and crushed, to be squeezed and to be bruised, to be in agony, that we may give forth Thy sweetness, Thy fragrance, Thy beauty, Thy song, Thy refreshing waters.
“Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.”15—David Brandt Berg
Published on Anchor March 2019. Read by Jason Lawrence.
Music by Michael Dooley.
1 Vaneetha Rendall Risner, The Scars that Have Shaped Me (Desiring God, 2017).
2 2 Corinthians 11:23–28.
3 2 Timothy 4:7.
4 John 16:33.
5 John 16:33; Luke 14:27.
6 Philippians 3:10.
7 1 Corinthians 10:13.
8 Romans 5:3–5.
9 Romans 8:28.
10 Hebrews 12:2.
11 Hebrews 12:2–4.
12 Hebrews 10:35–37.
14 Timothy Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (Hodder & Stoughton, 2013).
15 2 Corinthians 1:4.