Loss of vision
One of the greatest challenges of suffering in our world is not just the existence of suffering but in how to deal with it.
So many of our attempts at avoiding or eliminating personal suffering is not simply because of the pain involved but the crippling ability of suffering to wipe out our vision and hope for a meaningful and fulfilling life.
Hope at bay
The reality is, suffering has the power to keep us from hoping.
And of course, when we don’t hope, it makes any suffering and pain we experience that much more unbearable.
The ancient Scriptures say, hope differed makes the heart sick.
Hope keeps us going.
It inspires and motivates our work.
It gives us a sense of purpose.
It gives us a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
Our lens for suffering
In times past, like many Christians, I saw all forms of suffering as a problem to living a full and meaningful life.
I asked God to remove it and prayed against it like it was a demon or sickness.
Surely, I assumed, all suffering is from the devil or sin, or both.
My understanding of spiritual matters had little to no need for seeing suffering except in a negative light.
Suffering had no redemptive purpose; only the purpose of ruining our lives.
The odd-paradoxical-life-transformative thing about suffering
The irony of course is that many people throughout history, including Christian church history, have written and talked about how in their greatest seasons of suffering, they found and experienced the most incredible amount of freedom and healing.
They were not referring to physical healing (although that happened at times). They were referring to an internal healing that enabled them to reorient the way they approached life, people and their present circumstances.
Perhaps some of you have experienced the same thing.
Suffering paradoxically created the conditions necessary for the kind of healing that doesn’t happen simply by having our immediate issue eliminated (like sickness and disease, etc.).
Somehow in the middle of our greatest pain, something is at work within us that enables us to think clearer, maintain the most outrageous hope, and live with a quality of life that (perhaps) far surpasses anything we would have had had we never suffered to begin with.
This is not to say I don’t pray for outward signs of healing in my life or others’ lives. I do. Nor does this mean I am wholesale excusing large amounts of injustices that happen in our world or that we should turn a blind eye to them.
What I am saying is that I’m beginning to see more and more that suffering can be redemptive in the plans and purposes of God.
As a student and teacher of the Bible, I have come to see that redemptive suffering is one of the leading underlying storylines and overarching themes.
Suffering (if we let it) has the power to rescue and save us from ourselves. From shortsightedness, selfishness, pride and self-destruction.
It can open our eyes up to see beyond ourselves and our situation. To look into the eyes of another or a group of other people who we may not have otherwise cared about (or ever wanted to care about). Had it not been for the suffering we experienced, we may have ignored so much of the needs of others in our world.
Suffering has this almost divine purpose in bringing Shalom back into existence.
It arrests our attention.
It stops us in our tracks.
It forces us to reevaluate what matters.
It reminds us that we are not the only ones who do matter in this world.
Perhaps this is the hope you need in order to work through and overcome the suffering you’re experiencing.
Pause and pray
Take a moment. Consider asking God to inspire hope in you that will enable you to endure the suffering in your life. Perhaps there are other things you can think about and give attention to that will lighten the suffering. Perhaps there are other people besides yourself that you can serve, help, support and care for. Although your needs are important, getting your eyes on helping others can help you to suffer well and lift you out of your pit of discouragement or despair.
I will discuss how the first followers of Jesus had the audacity to speak of enduring suffering because of the God they had come to know in the face of Jesus who entered their suffering world and suffered for us. This blog was formerly titled “The God who suffers.”