Embracing suffering has to be one of the most contrasting elements of our faith compared with the secular. For the secular sufferer, pain is something to be ignored, suppressed, dulled, removed, shirked.
Yet, when we read the word of God, there are examples of Jesus and his disciples embracing suffering.
“His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and let them go. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” (Acts chapter 5, verse 40-41)
Not only did they embrace them, but they left rejoicing in their sufferings. This is not normal! It is a contrasting and radical response to the secular.
So then how do we bridge this gap? How do we transfer from a secular response to the radical example of the apostles?
One thing we can do, is to go on a personal journey to find out some of the things God accomplishes through our suffering. This can help us embrace suffering better.
One could never list the endless purposes of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-sovereign God. Yet, on the other hand, to know a few, is a balm to the soul.
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis chapter 50, verse 20)
Joseph suffered for twelve years in prison. Only to be raised up to a position of power where he would end up saving his brothers, and many other lives from famine.
This story is a foreshadowing of Jesus. Nobody at the time knew how the crucifixion would result in the reconciliation of generations and generations to come.
How could one life of self-sacrifice, of faithful suffering, reverberate such dimension shaking consequences?
This is the power of a God who accomplishes good things through our suffering.
God is sweeter than suffering. There is a point in the Christian walk where you can say with every sincerity, that I rather know God and suffer, than be separated from God and be pain free.
In this moment we esteem God above suffering.
Our relationship with Jesus, our precious pearl, can be treasured over sickness, over chronic or terminal disease, over chronic mental disorders. This is a priceless revelation.
“We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” (2 Corinthians chapter 1, verses 8-9)
New depths of relationship are made possible through suffering. Here Paul is pointing out that suffering has created a new depth of dependence.
A relationship is deepened when you share more and more of yourself with another person. As we suffer, and as we express our groans to God, we give the deepest parts of ourselves to him. We reach new depths of relationship that otherwise would not be possible.
We find new depths of God’s comfort, God’s sovereignty, God’s provision. We find out new revelations of God our strength, our refuge, our hope.
A new parent will be truly tested as they raise their young. What they will find is that they have a new capacity for selflessness. Who knew that a mother could spend their whole day only thinking about the needs of her baby? The test of parenthood may also reveal a selfish side. Summoning a tension because you must give up your time, hobbies, ambitions for the sake of your child.
Tests reveal character we didn’t know we had. For this reason we can consider trials pure joy. Because they teach us about ourselves. Suffering reveals to us what we wouldn’t know otherwise. That we have a deep capacity for selflessness, and that our pride runs just as deep.
Suffering disrupts illusions
If every plan goes swimmingly, we can fall under the illusion that we are in control of our life. Suffering dispels this illusion. When you are left picking up the pieces of your life, you then have a deeper appreciation of the fact that God controls everything.
Suffering also disrupts the illusion of self-sufficiency. Job could have eaten well and taken care of his body all he wanted, he still would have been struck down by boils. Our bodies are always prone to breaking down. We are at the mercy of a sovereign God. We are not invincible.
Suffering creates empathy
“He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray since he himself is subject to weakness.” (Hebrews chapter 5, verse 2)
This shows a connection between suffering and a capacity for empathy. Our saviour is not a distant god, but a suffering servant. A man of sorrows. A man ‘acquainted with grief’.
Suffering creates a deeper ability to empathise. Before Jesus healed and performed miracles to the crowds, he pitied them, he was “moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew chapter 9, verse 36)
As we suffer ourselves, we become a more empathetic witness.
As Mary looked at Jesus on the cross, did she know that this evil deed would then go on to save generation upon generations? In our time of trials, we could never conceive of what God is doing in its totality.
A thousand pages wouldn’t be enough to describe the amount of good that God accomplishes even through just one life.
God’s goodness is so mobile, that it penetrates destruction and takes it captive for good purposes.
May we continue to patiently endure the present sufferings of this age, because they are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us and in us.
Roden Meares enjoys playing basketball, reading comics and going to the gym. He has a passion for evangelising and helping others in their faith through writing.
Roden’s previous articles can be viewed at https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/roden-meares.html