Suffering is a part of our lives. Most people at one time or another experience physical illness. Hunger is frequently endured by a large percent of the world’s population. Poverty is widespread. Still others suffer at the hands of people, either in difficult marriages, or with abusive parents, or oppressive masters. As a result of greed and corruption, the political climate in some countries produces much bloodshed and war. Those with deep spiritual convictions have to suffer persecution because of their obedience to their beliefs. Millions of people around the world suffer daily. Why? What is the reason?
Suffering came into this world in the beginning because of sin. It is a continual reminder of man’s sinful condition (Genesis 3:16-19; Romans 5:12). Pain, trouble, and sorrow became an everyday part of man’s existence, because of his disobedience. Since sin is in this world, suffering is a part of life. We cannot, in this earthly life, expect to see the complete eradication of disease or the end of suffering. We are all subject to it regardless of status or nationality.
Many people suffer unnecessarily because they abuse their bodies, or do not take proper care of them. If we indulge in smoking, drinking, taking drugs, and intemperate living, we are making excessive demands on our bodies. Consequently, our bodies, and even our minds, may break down under these stresses. It is sin to abuse our bodies (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 6:18-20).
There is much suffering, however, that comes upon the human race over which we have no control, and it comes unbidden to the rich and poor alike. No one, no matter how good a person he is, can be assured that he will be exempted. Job, the great example of suffering, was commended of God as a perfect and upright man. Consider the misery he suffered, losing his health, wealth, and family, and even his wife turned against him! God was glorified through his suffering, and He would like to be through yours. Read Job, chapter 1.
A person is not necessarily sick, blind, maimed, deaf, deformed, barren, etc., because he or his parents have sinned. At one time the disciples asked Jesus after meeting a blind man: “Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). Jesus replied, “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him” (v.3). Later, Jesus healed the man. In some cases the barren woman suffers unjustly. She is despised and rejected because of superstitions and cultural stigma. Her condition does not indicate a curse from God, and she need not despair. In this case, as well as in all requests to God, let us always remember that He knows what is best for us.
God does not intend to punish, but would rather like to refine us through this type of suffering. Actually, we can gain spiritual enrichment through such experiences. Suffering brings out the “real” or inner man and reveals our makeup. Many have found that by accepting difficulties and troubles their hearts have become softened. The humility this brings opens our mind to our dependency on God and His purpose for us. Then we can understand that, through suffering and difficulties, He intends to draw us closer to Him. Joseph was sold as a slave by his own brothers. Rather than being bitter about this, he let God work in him. He filled a great place in God’s plan. Later he told his repentant brothers, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Genesis 50:20).
The suffering we experience tends to make us think about ourselves. We may feel alone in our problems and think no one understands. The burdens we have may seem greater than what others have to bear. It is easy to indulge in self-pity and become bitter, but the example of Joseph shows us how God can bless us as we submit to Him.
Rather than despairing, we can allow our suffering to be turned to the glory of God. Once we are resigned to our lot and can humbly say, “Lord, thy will be done,” God can speak to us. There are many instances where people have thanked God for taking them through the valley of suffering because it has caused them to stop and think. They then realize there is more to life than to fulfill their own desires, pleasures, and pursuits. Many testify that they have found the Lord through suffering. Then, when they must face death, they can joyfully say with Paul, “Death is swallowed up in victory. The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54,56-57).
Suffering will be the eternal lot of all those who reject Jesus (John 12:48). However, those who are willing to suffer for Jesus in this life will enjoy the rewards of eternity with no suffering at all (Revelations 21:4). By humbling ourselves to accept God’s way for us and repenting of our sins, our robes can be washed white in the blood of the Lamb. Those who are redeemed in this way can obtain the heavenly reward (Revelations 7:13-14).
Suffering would teach us to be more sympathetic to others. We may make little effort to visit or pray for the afflicted, until we have experienced suffering ourselves. “That we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” (2 Corinthians 1:4).
Jesus, who once lived on this earth in a body like ours, understands us and our sufferings well. He can sympathize with us beyond the capacity of any human being. He knows our pain and our troubled heart. When Jesus witnessed the grief of His friends at the death of Lazarus, He was so touched in His heart that He groaned within himself and wept (John 11:33-35). He gave himself to suffering for the eternal salvation of humanity. If He, being the perfect Son of God, accepted this, then we should be willing to also endure affliction. True followers of God willingly accept adversity since they are servants of Him, who is their example. A vision of Jesus, His love, and His sacrifice, causes them to consider, “Why should we be spared suffering?”
Even though we may have to suffer extensively, we can find a rest in accepting what God has allowed to us. God is the Master Planner-with every trial He has promised to provide for our keeping. When the apostle Paul was able to accept his difficulty or handicap, he was able to be a happy and useful person. He prayed three times, asking God to remove the thorn from his flesh, but God answered, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made Perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Similarly, as we completely surrender to God and accept our suffering, God’s strength sustains us. When we accept God’s plan for us in suffering, it brings forth an expression of thankfulness that blesses our hearts and witnesses to those around us.
GOSPEL TRACT AND BIBLE SOCIETY/ Church of Christ, Mennonite