When we think of suffering we (at least I) don’t usually attach the words ‘beauty’ and ‘joy’ to describe it. In our world we perceive suffering as being terrible, inconvenient, painful and maybe unfair… but, how does the Bible describe suffering and call us to respond?
Spoiler alert: Probably not how most of us respond to suffering!
Whole books have been written on this subject, so there is a lot to say and writing material definitely isn’t lacking, because the Bible talks about this topic a LOT. But, I’ll just make a few brief comments as I’m thinking through this topic, particularly during this COVID-19 time. Because, in view of COVID-19 we’re all suffering in some form, whether it’s the loss of loved ones, lost jobs, cut hours, financial challenges, being forced to stay home all day, missing fellowship with believers etc.
For our benefit, a quick survey of the Bible describes many who suffered and their perspective, for example:
Job suffered immensely, yet after the news that in one day all of his children had died and he’d lost all his possessions, he worshipped the Lord (Job, chapter one, verse 21)
Joseph was kidnapped by his brothers and sold into slavery (an expected death warrant) and yet after challenges and false accusations, his faith was firm in the Lord and he recognised what his brothers had planned for evil, God planned for good (Genesis chapter 50, verse 20)
Hannah suffered greatly from her barrenness, but it led her to persistent and faithful prayer (1 Samuel chapter 1)
Ruth’s husband died and yet, rather than blaming God, she left her family and homeland in order to serve God (Ruth chapter 1)
The psalmist in Psalm 119 spoke about suffering as something good and beneficial, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (Ps 119, verse 71)
James urged believers to face suffering with JOY because it produces maturity (James chapter 1, verses 2-4)
Paul taught that suffering was a tool for maturity in the faith (Romans chapter 5 verses 3-5), knowing Christ better (Philippians chapter 3, verse 10), and to be strengthened in the Lord (2 Corinthians chapter 12, verse 10)
Let me now take each of these Bible characters and highlight some helpful and biblical responses to suffering we are facing, will face, or that you can pass on to others. You could even think and pray about one of these each day of the week.
1. Like Job, worship God – You might not know the why of your situation, but God is still God!
2. Like Joseph, recognize God is sovereign – God works even bad situations for His purpose!
3. Like Hannah, pray to God – Be persistent, honest and faith-filled in prayer through whatever you face!
4. Like Ruth, turn to God – There might be lots of false comfort/security you could run to, but choose God!
5. Like the Psalmist, study God’s Word – Look for encouragement, hope and comfort in God’s Word!
6. Like James instructs, respond with joy – Don’t just look at the current situation, but with joy approach it as an opportunity to become more like Christ and mature in your faith!
7. Like Paul, yearn to know God – The deepest darkest periods of life can be the times of greatest spiritual blessing, because they provide you with deep experiences of knowing God and fellowship with Him.
In addition to these faithful men and women, we must not forget the one who has suffered the most and was undeserving of it all! Christ Jesus suffered for our sake, willingly choosing to die on our behalf so that we might be reconciled to God. If nothing else, as we consider Christ on the cross, know that Christ’s death has provided eternal hope to all who trust in Him, with a promise of heaven with no suffering!
If you have not accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior, He does not promise or guarantee freedom from suffering and pain in this world, BUT He is able to support us because He’s been through suffering and it is only through Him that we can become right before God. To be right before God means to become His child, to be His friend, to be promised eternal life with Him and to receive a whole new perspective in this life. Won’t you then turn from your sin, ask God to forgive you and submit to Jesus as Lord.
It’s when I think about suffering from this perspective that I believe suffering can (and should) become joyful and beautiful.
Tim Wilson grew up in Australia before moving to North America in 2011. He and his wife have three children and are currently living in Canada, where Tim is the pastor of a local church. He is committed to preaching and teaching the Bible as the inspired Word of God without error and completely relevant for us today.