Suffering: How do we deal with hard times in a fallen world?
A young boy is betrayed by the people who are, above all, supposed to love him. They throw him into a pit, and, while debating whether or not to KILL THEIR BROTHER, they sell him to slave traders on a whim. He undergoes a long journey, led and grown by God, and when he, now one of the most powerful men in the known world, meets his brothers again, he FORGIVES THEM, saying, "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good."
This man suffered greatly. Injustice was rampant in his life. Yet, the above quote was his response. You can read the whole story in Genesis 39-50. So here is the question for us: how do we deal with suffering? First of all, where does suffering come from? Sin is the short answer. The world is fallen, and people make poor choices, our hormones leave us in despair, human cruelty spreads its nastiness across our way, and we forget that love and Jesus are the answer. Our bodies are broken and fallen, and so are our minds. There is much room for suffering and pain in such a world. In Vince Wood's book The Train, he explains,
"Why is there pain in this world? Most people think that God’s purpose was to create a world, free from pain and suffering, in which man could live. If Eden was God’s ultimate goal, the skeptic has a legitimate question, “Why would a good God allow so much pain and suffering in His world?” However, the Scripture does not present Eden as the goal of creation. God’s purpose was always redemption. The angels who remain in their created perfection look with awe at the story of redemption (1 Peter 1:12). God chose His people in Christ “before the foundation of the world.” His objective has always been to redeem a people for Himself (2 Samuel 7:23).
So why is there pain? Pain exists to wean mankind from a sin-cursed world. Any loving parent would be heartbroken if his child was content to live in filth. To see your daughter digging in a garbage dump to find the remnants of a chicken leg for her dinner would crush you. To hear her choose such a living condition when she is welcome in your home is even worse. God created man for something more than life in a world ravaged by sin."
So what is the purpose of suffering for the Christian? God tells us that the outcome of trials is our good. He "only designs, our dross to consume, and our gold to refine" ("How Firm a Foundation", Keen). He can redeem any situation, no matter how impossible it seems. Sometimes through suffering, we realize that we are unable to stand on our own, that our frail attempt at independence (how arrogant and silly of us!) is only a ruse, and that we need Christ every single moment. Sometimes through suffering, our barriers to God are broken down, and we experience a new and wonderful fellowship with Christ that we were keeping from ourselves before. Sometimes we learn insights about ourselves, about others, and about God. There are many things that can happen for our good through the trials of this world, no matter how crazy and out of control the circumstances seem at the time. "'I believe,' he said, 'but I have learned that it is a secret. Kindness and love, they are a secret. But I have learned that kindness and love can pay for pain and suffering...' 'I have never thought that a Christian would be free of suffering...For our Lord suffered. And I come to believe that he suffered, not to save us from suffering, but to teach us how to bear suffering. For he knew that there is no life without suffering'" (Cry, the Beloved Country; Alan Paton). "'Ye said the Lord took sides against us, because he lets us be 'bused and knocked round,; but ye see what come on his own Son, - the blessed Lord of Glory, - wan't he allays poor? and have we, any on us, yet come so low as he come? The Lord han't forgot us, - I'm [certain of that]. If we suffer with him, we shall also reign, Scripture says; but, if we we deny Him, he also will deny us. Didn't they all suffer? - the Lord and all his? It tells how they was stoned and sawn asunder, and wandered about in sheep-skins and goat-skins and was destitute, afflicted, tormented. Sufferin' an't no reason to make us think the Lord's turned agin us; but jest the contrary, if only we hold on to him, and doesn't give up to sin'" (Tom in Uncle Tom's Cabin 306).
I've come to believe the following: God is all-seeing and all-knowing, so He knows that trials and sin will hurt us in specific times and ways. He is sinless and perfect, so He does not CAUSE these things to happen. It would be completely against His nature. He can choose to stop them from happening, and oftentimes, He does. He saves us from car accidents, from muggings, from sickness. But He can weigh the future, He can stop evil from happening, and He ALWAYS brings good from bad for His children. We don't usually see the good in the situation right away; sometimes it takes months or even years, and sometimes we won't see the good till we get to heaven. But we know that God keeps His promises, and that He promises to redeem every trial, to bring gold out of dross. I believe that sometimes, He sees what will happen, and He sees that the good He will bring from the suffering is better, is more glorious for us, than the suffering not happening at all. This is most difficult to believe while in these hard situations. The spiritual battle is happening behind the car wreck, the death of a loved one, the depression, the anxiety, the fear of the future, the broken relationship, the countless setbacks of daily life. That spiritual battle is what has an effect on our souls, not just our bodies. However, if we choose to believe this truth, then we are blessed because we know that God is working, that He loves us beyond what we can imagine, and that He is fighting for our good. My husband's grandfather often said in the midst of extreme pain, "God is good, and He can be trusted." When we choose to cling daily to Christ, wrapping ourselves in His love, and seeking Him actively every day, trusting Him to bring good out of the unspeakable evil, we are blessed. We are blessed beyond what we would have been if we had not experienced the trial at all. That is the amazing power of God on earth. He loves us more than we can imagine, and He knows best; He sees the beautiful tapestry woven together, not just of my life, but of all our lives. He weaves together the intersections, the patterns, the breath-taking picture of it all. Take heart, friends. "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). See the following links for songs that I have greatly appreciated in times of suffering: Ginny Owens "If You Want Me To" Laura Story "Blessings" Meredith Andrews "You're Not Alone"