The reality of suffering
How to make sure you don't get knocked off your feet in hard times.
On the issue of suffering, most people will come from one of two angles.
1. The first group are the philosophers. Looking for answers to life’s big questions, they see the state of the world and ask, "How could a good God let it get so bad?".
2. The second are the sufferers. Those who from the depths of despair, with broken hearts and tired eyes, have called out to God asking “Why is this happening?”.
While most people begin their questioning in category one, over time we all end up in category two. Those who haven’t suffered just haven’t lived long enough. Like little old ladies playing bingo, it’s just a matter of time before our number is called.
Why do we suffer?
The simple answer to the “why?” question is that age-old enemy: sin. Genesis tells us that God created our world and it was "very good". Humanity lived in perfect relationship with God, the world and one another. But everything changed with the fall in Genesis 3. Sin entered the world and, like a stone flung into glass, it shattered God’s good creation. From that time, we have lived in a world "subjected to frustration" (Romans 8) where pain, death, tears and anguish are just as common as smiles, joy and laughter. Suffering is a consequence of living in a broken and hurting world.
The problem with this answer, however, is that it often sounds cold and uncaring. The sufferer doesn’t need to be told the world is broken, they know it from personal experience. When the tidal wave of suffering comes, what they need is something strong to stand on. I offer two pillars to stand on that have helped my wife and I keep our heads above water (just) when we have been through suffering:
God's main concern is not our happiness, but our long-term good.
Romans 8:28 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.
I don’t know why your parents got divorced, or why your brother is sick, or why you lost your sister, or why you feel so depressed. But what I do know for Christians is that God uses evil for good, and he is lovingly refining our souls in the fires of despair. Your suffering is God’s blessing, although you might not be able to see that now. Like a master craftsman, he uses our suffering to mould us to be more like Jesus. Sadly, it may only be from heaven that we will we be able to look back and say, “That’s why that happened … thank you Jesus”.
Suffering is temporary
In Revelation 21:1-5, John gets a vision of the new creation and hears a voice declare:
Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
As much as we hate it, school holidays are made all the better for having to endure the weeks of anticipation before they arrive. Perhaps through your suffering, God is preparing you to enjoy his gift of eternal life.
Stand on these two pillars when the wave of suffering hits you. Without them you might drown. As a final encouragement, let me urge you to fix your eyes on the cross of Jesus, the ultimate example of where God used evil for good. Jesus “endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).