Suffering is of a short duration and a training to perfection to enable us to help others in their infirmities and to draw near to God for eternal glory and joy in Christ Jesus.
“Hardship does not spring from the soil, nor does trouble sprout from the ground. Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upwards” (Job 5:6-7). A viewer’s mother was diagnosed with cancer and prayer groups were formed by them and healing proclaimed with no result. She underwent surgery and then the very painful process of chemotherapy started and every time the old lady had only one question to ask “Why was she suffering and why their prayers were not being answered?” Job had been living a righteous life all along and every time that his children held feasts in their homes, “he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each one of them, thinking, perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts” (Job 1:5). Yet he lost everything including his health and he was bewildered at what befell him and he cried out in pain “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me” (Job 3:25). During any time of suffering and trial more than the pain of the loss is the inability to understand the reasons for the same.
Does sin cause suffering? – Adam and Eve were in the process of being filled with the knowledge of God and His ways and this being written in their hearts when sin entered their lives. But the basic information is stored in us that there is a God and we are accountable to Him and His judgement. Whenever any type of suffering comes our way the first reaction of everyone is to blame for some un-confessed sin in our lives. Job’s three friends refused to believe him about his innocence and blamed some concealed sin to be the cause of his suffering. Why would a loving God make His children to suffer for any act of omission or commission?
Suffering is not only of one kind only; physical suffering relates to disease and some forms of deformities from birth. Some diseases could be due to sinful living. Gluttony is considered a sin “for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty and slumber will clothe them with rags” (Proverbs 23:21). Medical science has established beyond doubt that many diseases like diabetes, heart attacks, stroke, joint pains etc are directly related to this. Sexual immorality is a sin and AIDS, unwanted pregnancies and divorce are the result of this. The blood of Jesus forgives sins but one will have to bear the consequences of committed acts of the past. A child born out of wedlock and other physical ailments due to sinful living will impact lives after repentance also.
The second type of suffering is financial suffering which may be due to wasted efforts, gambling and many other types of sins. A child born in a poor family is able to escape poverty by walking in the ‘path of light’ and hard work but a rich man is likely to lose all “for the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous” (Proverbs 13:22). Social suffering again is a result of sinful living and resultant exclusion from the society. The Scriptures are very clear about sinful living “Your sins have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, He has turned away and will not listen anymore” (Isaiah 59:2). God hates sin but not a sinner and is ready to forgive a repentant soul.
Benefits of suffering – All suffering may not be as a result of sin only and this is established by the book of Job and the sacrificial offering of the Savior on the cross by God the Father Himself. “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe Him, but also to suffer for Him” (Philippians 1:29) and it is a matter of pride to suffer thus. Peter and the other apostles were beaten for preaching in the Temple but they went out “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41). Paul and the other Apostles felt privileged to undergo sufferings at the hands of others for preaching the Gospel and our acts affect us in our testimony and others to do good. In addition; 1) suffering helps us to stay focused on God and away from comforts of the world. 2) Miracle seekers/temporary believers or those seeds that get choked by “thorns and thistles are weeded out. 3) We are strengthened in our faith in the sovereignty of God and His helping hand in our weaknesses and 4) we set an example for others to persevere and receive blessings. Suffering is also used by God for various reasons and some could be as listed here.
Suffering to test our faith – God declared Job as a “blameless and upright man” which fact was challenged by the Accuser of God’s people. God allowed Satan to test Job and placed “everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger”. Later Satan was further allowed to cause any physical suffering “but you must spare his life” (Job 1:12 & 2:6). Job suffered great turmoil for the next six months or so and finally God Himself stepped in to save him and bless him with double of what he had lost earlier. The life of King David is full of examples of his faith being renewed under every trial. Amalekites raided Ziklag and took the wives and children of David and his men captive and destroyed the place. David had also suffered the same fate as others yet they held him responsible for their suffering and “were talking of stoning David”. David in full faith enquired of the Lord and the answer was clear “Pursue them. You will certainly overtake them and succeed in the rescue”. David not only rescued the wives and children of all but also received as a bounty “great amount of plunder they (Amalekites) had taken from the land of the Philistines and from Judah” (1 Samuel 30: 6; 8; 16). Suffering and trials is the time to draw near to God and seek Him diligently but we start blaming God.
Suffering for perfection – The Lord is mentioned as a “refiner and purifier of silver” (Malachi 3:3). The process of refining and purification of silver is a tedious process and it is held in the middle of the fire where heat is intense and the silversmith has to continuously keep his eyes on it. A little delay and the silver will be damaged and a little early some impurities will remain. The test of exact time is when the worker can see his own image clearly in the silver. In the same manner all along during our trials our God is not only keeping His eyes on us to get us out at the right time but also to step in with us to save us when the need arises. God was there in the fire when His servants Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego were thrown into the fire to save them. Our Lord humbled Himself to become man and in this role He suffered extensively to attain perfection (Hebrews 2:10).
Suffering to help others – On the way to the cross our Lord underwent all possible suffering than mankind can ever be made to bear. He was completely isolated from everyone, even from God the Father, ridiculed and humiliated, physically tortured to the extreme and all this without food or water so that He could experience all this Himself to empathize with us. “For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). Lord Jesus has all the authority over everything and He is our Advocate and High Priest in heaven; an Advocate who has experienced all that we face to plead for us and a High Priest who has opened the doors for us also to enter into the Divine presence. He suffered for us to display the love of God for us and “should be prepared to lay down our lives for others” (1 John 3:16). In our suffering we are trained to encourage others in their sufferings for our sufferings are for a little while (1 Peter 5:9-10).
Suffering to learn obedience – Lord Jesus prayed to the Father in Gethsemane to take the cup away from Him and God had the power to do so. He was heard by God and “though He were a Son; yet learned he obedience by the things which He suffered” (Hebrews 5:7-8). Apostle Paul prayed three times to God for removing “the thorn in his flesh” and he had been taken on a ‘tour of heaven’ and “heard unspeakable words, which t is not lawful for a man to utter”. God did not listen but granted him more and more grace to tide over his problems (2 Corinthians 12:4; 7 and 9). Obedience is to “rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation” in all circumstances even dire adversities (Habakkuk 3:17-19).
Suffering for blessings – “God of all grace, who has called us unto His eternal glory by glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, make you perfect, establish, strengthen, settle you” (1 Peter 5:10). Apostle Peter’s assertion is that the suffering is temporary, for a short duration and God may use it to make us perfect in faith and our conduct to establish us firmly. Thirdly we receive strength from God in suffering and through this He settles us to do His will without stumbling. We perceive that we are extremely weak during our sufferings and Satan’s relentless attack would finish us off. Apostle Paul rejoiced in his infirmities for “God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness” and he exploited his state to receive more of the power of Christ in his life. Much like the silversmith refining his silver, God keeps His eyes on His chosen ones and “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might He increases strength” (Isaiah 40:29).
In faith we also like Paul can appropriate Divine grace to overcome our weaknesses and God has through His grace saved us and not due to anything in our power. This is the uniqueness of following Lord Jesus that we experience more of Him when we surrender ourselves to Him in our sufferings and weaknesses to depend on His might. He Himself surrendered fully to God the Father and did not “turn His face from those who hit Him, pulled His beard and spit on His face” so that “His visage was so marred more than any man” (Isaiah 50:6 & 52:14). We became weak and vulnerable to the lies of devil and to strengthen us God gave us His best- His only begotten Son. “God would have given us something greater if He had something greater than Himself” St. John Vianney His best has not only redeemed us but also empowered us by dwelling in us to face any adversity.
C.S.Lewis is right to say that “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world”. It is only in our sufferings that we turn to God and seek Him and He is ever ready to run to embrace the prodigal son but most of the times it becomes difficult for us to shed our strengths and return to Him as a prodigal son. We wish to return to him in victory while He is looking out for us to make us victorious. On the cross our Lord was nailed with His arms stretched wide to show His readiness to embrace the whole world irrespective of their present state to bless and empower.
To receive “the pearl of great price” all that God desires is to surrender our sufferings, our weaknesses and infirmities to Him and obtain His power to overcome. Our sufferings are for a little while and He as the “Captain of our salvation” has tread and made ready a path into eternal glory in Himself for us. “This is the day which the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24) and He will lead us onto ‘green pastures and still waters’.
God has given us His best and Jesus is all we need- whatever be the circumstances!!