Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:1-4)
There seems to be two types of suffering: (1) the suffering that comes of our own making, and (2) the suffering that comes when God prunes us. I’m sure you have experienced both. The suffering of brokenness is never easy. This second brand of suffering refers to the state of surrender and defeat we experience when hardship comes to our usually steady and painless life. Certainly, you can imagine that many of us bring about hardship based upon choices we make. In any event, the suffering of brokenness is never easy.
What’s the Point in Bringing up Suffering?
Why talk about this subject of suffering? Can we please just talk about something else? You’re going to ruin a great day. The sun’s shining. Your belly is full. You love your job. What suffering? After all, just thinking about the word or recalling the trials of Job is enough to frighten anyone. But what happens when God calls us to experience suffering firsthand? How can we bear it? It is a difficult pill to swallow, but we all suffer in one way or another. There are those who suffer physically; some suffer emotionally; others seem to suffer mentally; and, finally, many who constantly fight God’s calling in their lives suffer spiritually. Why? We suffer because we refuse to surrender and yield everything to God’s lordship. Suffering is a difficult truth, and without God in our lives, it’s impossible to understand or see any good in it. But with God’s help and His Spirit’s empowerment, it can be the sweetest thing a believer ever experiences.
God’s Spirit chooses certain people that He knows will accept the pain and sorrow of suffering. He knows they will trust Him fully and learn How work to work. He will make them an instrument so powerful, so special, and so sweet that no one will be able to resist them. He’s only asking us to do one thing for Him – simply put our trust completely in Him. We often forget what God has already declared in His Word. God’s ways are higher than ours. (See Isaiah 55:8-9) His wisdom and insight into who we are and what we need in our lives are perfect. And, much to our dismay, the Lord does not always reveal to us what He is doing in our lives.
When we get into the arena of suffering, often our faith begins to waver in disbelief, our hearts begin to question everything about God’s love, and our minds begin to challenge God’s authority. We take our eyes off of His love and begin to question God Himself. Satan then throws us into the pit of despair. We start spiraling out of control and we end up in a horrible and sinful place, crying out, “It doesn’t seem fair!” A question from our heart: “Why do the wicked prosper and the righteous have to suffer?” Why, for example, does a young Christian woman, who is living her life for the Lord and with great virtuousness, get raped? Why must a Christian couple have to experience the pain of a child suffering from cancer?
Even in my own life I have questioned why I have needed to wrestle endlessly with the bondage of addiction despite my sincere desire to break free? Quite frankly, I don’t think any of us can truly answer these tough questions. If we didn’t know God, we could likely brush it off as the way of human existence on go on, moving forward. But because we know the goodness of God; because we know that He is filled with grace, mercy, and compassion; and because we know that no experience – painful or otherwise – can touch us unless it goes through His hands, we struggle to make sense of the pain and suffering in life. When we are struck with pain and suffering, we automatically think that we have done something wrong and that God is trying to teach us a lesson. This is not always the case. In fact, some of the most horrific suffering can take place when we are doing exactly what we should be doing! One thing is certain: suffering produces character.
SOME TRUTHS ABOUT SUFFERING
When we encounter trials, tribulations, and sufferings, it’s then that our Christian walk really meets the road. It is often during these times that the Scriptures truly become alive to us and the Holy Spirit does His greatest work in our lives.
Suffering Helps Us Comfort Others
The Bible promises us that we will be comforted in our suffering. It does not promise that we will always understand our suffering, nor does it promise that God will deliver us from pain, suffering, or even death; but it does promise He will always be with us. Perhaps the prophet Isaiah says it best: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.” (Isaiah 44:2) We receive our comfort from God, and He will use the very experience that is causing our suffering to help us comfort someone else. This concept is very much alive in the realm of addictions counseling and 12-step meetings.
Paul wrote, in his second letter to the Corinthians, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same things we suffer.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-6, NIV)
At times God shakes up our lives. He brings us to a place in which we are uncomfortable in order to mold and correct us. As these verses state, sometimes we will suffer for no other reason but to make our hearts tender, and to give us great compassion toward other people. When we experience difficulty in life, we are able to turn to the Lord for His comfort. We get to mirror to others how God moves us from despair to victory. The comfort of God is something that your spouse or your best friend cannot give you. The Lord strengthens us by coming alongside us and walking with us through the storm. This coming alongside another is the very essence of the ministry of helps. (See 1 Corinthians 12:28) The Greek translation of this verse indicates literally “to relieve, succor, participate in, and/or support.” Those with the gift of helps are individuals who can aid, render assistance, or counsel others with compassion and grace.
Suffering Turns Our Focus on God
The Apostle Paul talks about the extent of his own suffering when he wrote, “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us, you also helping together in prayer for us, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the gift granted to us through many.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-11) What was the reason for Paul’s suffering? He suffered so that he would not trust in himself, but in God, who raises the dead.
I believe that every bit of suffering God allows us to experience has at its core the purpose of bringing us to a place where we do not look to ourselves, but rather to God. He wants to destroy that place of self-confidence in our lives, and to bring us to a place in which we trust only Him. God wants us to understand and know His place of comfort and, in turn, be able to reach out and comfort others just as He has comforted and taken care of us.
Suffering Allows Us to Better Glorify God
In all ways, we want the Lord to be glorified in our lives. Sometimes He gets greater glory in what may seem like nothing but suffering on our end. Remember in the book of John when Martha and Mary were crying because their brother, Lazarus, had died? Martha told Jesus that if only He had been there, Lazarus would not have died. It’s likely that the sisters had a hard time understanding why Jesus didn’t drop everything to come and rescue His friend. And, understandably so, this furthered the suffering they were experiencing. But Jesus said to them, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of Man may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4) Jesus loved Mary and Martha. He allowed them to suffer temporarily because it was part of God’s plan to do an even greater work than healing Lazarus. That is, to raise him from the dead. Not only would this greater miracle reveal the deity of Christ and give God glory, it would also give Mary and Martha tremendous hope. God loves His children and uses suffering to bring about far greater glory than what we could ever imagine.
Suffering Allows Us to Be More Appreciative
When we struggle through difficult times, we find ourselves being thankful for the simple things, the blessings the Lord has given us. Think of it this way: When we are sick, we become very appreciative of our health. When we are broke, we become appreciative of basic provisions. When we experience a broken relationship, we become very grateful of just having someone to eat meals with. So often we ignore God’s daily provisions for our lives and the many blessings He has bestowed on us. Not taking things for granted is a key lesson of suffering. We need to appreciate what God has given us (including each breath we take) and live each day with a thankful heart. No one likes to suffer, but it’s a necessary part of life. If our attitude is right, we will thrive during the suffering and, on the other side, be better because of it.
HOW TO VIEW SUFFERING AND COPE WITH IT
Ultimately, there are two ways to look at suffering. One way is like looking in a mirror. When trials come and difficulty hits, we immediately look in the mirror and all we see is ourselves. We see our hurts, our problems, our pain, and what others have done to us, but we are oblivious both to God and to what is going on in other people’s lives. The more we look in the mirror, the further we slide into despair. If we deal with suffering when it comes by looking into a mirror, we will never overcome it. We will never enjoy and experience the fruit God wants to bring into our lives through our suffering.
However, God wants to take the mirror away and replace it with a window – a view on the rest of the world! If we look out the window, we will see other people who are also hurting. Although we may not see the purpose of our suffering at the time, we will see that God is moving, and He is placing people and circumstances in our life for a reason. When we are looking out the window, we have no time to look in the mirror.
It’s Time for a New View
I have spent way too much time staring in the mirror, feeling sorry for myself, and blaming others for my circumstances. Looking in the mirror at my own pitiful reflection causes me to dwell on the negative aspects of my situation. I develop the attitude that no one understands, no one has experienced what I am going through, and nobody cares. It took a while for me to realize that I was staring in the mirror every day, moping, seeing nothing but heartache and suffering and loneliness. Frankly, that’s enough to destroy anyone! But the day we all choose to through the mirror away and look out the window, then we can look through our pain and suffering – the agony of our own life – and see another human being.
The Lord will lift us out of the sorrow, out of the situation, and use us as an instrument of righteousness within His kingdom. He will give us His compassion to reach out to others who are suffering, to comfort them with the same comfort that we have received. Suffering is common to all men and women. Every one of us goes through difficult times. Jesus, who did nothing wrong, suffered more than any other man or woman in history. Yet, He was able to say from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) Throughout His life and His suffering, Jesus looked through a window instead of a mirror and was able to see others, not Himself.
Help to Cope With Suffering
We need to get out from our looking position (the inward focus, the looking in the mirror) to a helping position – taking our eyes off our own situation and helping others through their suffering. But how do we do this? We do it by receiving God’s comfort and strength. In the Bible, the word paraclete is given to describe the Holy Spirit. In the Greek, it means “one who comes as a pillar of fire by your side.” God will be with us through the fire. He will be with us through the fire. He will be with us through the storm. He will be with us when the rivers begin to overflow. The Lord is able to comfort and help us in all situations of life. The apostle Paul, who had his own share of suffering, wrote, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
Are you battling a painful time in your life? Are you trying to make sense of it all? It’s important to stick with what you know. The Bible promises to help dispel the horrible and nagging question of “Why?” So stick with these truths: You know God loves you. You know God is true. You know He is righteous and Holy. You know God will not allow anything to come into your life that you cannot handle. You know God will use your suffering to help you minister to someone else. You know God will use your suffering for ultimate good.
We must look to the Lord and stand upon His promises. This is the only way to get through our personal suffering. We must remember what Jesus said: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” Paul suffered through beatings and stonings and shipwrecks and imprisonments and rejection and hunger and thirst and homelessness – far more pain than most of us will ever have to endure. What did Paul say in Romans 8:18? “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
God is always around us. He is with us in every situation. When we’re ready to drop with exhaustion, or we fear we’re losing our way, are we to think, “I can handle this?” No, we remind ourselves, “It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure.” (See Psalm 18:32)