Thursday, December 04, 2008

About Suffering

It's far easier to speak about suffering when it isn't your own. It's far easier to be an encourager when you are sitting comfortably, looking over at the person, or persons, who are hanging on by a thread. It's that ivory tower mentality that gets us in trouble.

So this is not from my tower. It's up close and personal. It's the kind of comments that come after many a sleepless night, heart palpitations brought on by wondering what the next phone call would bring, and lots and lots of prayer.

Why does God let us suffer? Why do we pass through the fire? Why do we have to pass those sleepless nights, or have to be unable to alleviate the suffering of others? I can think of several reasons. Here are just a few, for starters.

Sometimes suffering is our own doing. You'll find illustrations in King David's life about suffering he brought on himself, as well as on others. You can also see Peter's admonition in 1 Peter 4:15 - "If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler." When it is our own doing, we need to repent.

Sometimes suffering is the result of the evil of this world. I am not in the camp that thinks that everyone is basically good. Most of us have a measure of goodness in us; but the Bible teaches we are not basically good; instead, God teaches that there is none good, not even one (see Romans 3). There are, consequently, a lot of people out there who have given themselves over to evil, to practice what is in their hearts. And we end up suffering because of it.

Do you think that those men who commandeered the jetliners on 9-11 were basically good? They were depraved, indifferent, evil men. Do you think that handful of terrorists who struck in Mumbai were good? They were violent men who sold themselves to do evil. What we often fail to remember, however, is that the same spirit that will lead us to lie is that spirit that will lead us to cheat, curse others, give in to road rage, and even kill.

So some suffering comes as a consequence of evil in others.

Sometimes we suffer because of our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Americans are too often unaware of such suffering. We have actually reached a point where we seem to think that it is our right to prosper and live at ease. And when suffering comes, we groan and weep, questioning God for that which comes upon us. Or we file lawsuits. Or we go to the press. And we cast our pearls before swine (the lost world), mumbling something about our rights being trampled. Of course they are being trampled! The world has no interest whatsoever in the things of God's children.

Around the world, even as you are reading this, men and women (and sometimes children, too) are suffering for the cause of Christ. Some are in prison. Some are being starved to death. Some are being tortured in attempts to make them recant their faith in Jesus Christ. Some are being burned alive.

Would you like to know what Peter said about that? Read these verses from 1 Peter 4:12-14:

"Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you."

Don't be surprised. You are blessed. Rejoice.

It ain't easy to rejoice when you feel like God's enemies are squeezing the life out of you. But we can do it. It isn't easy to give thanks when everything around us goes wrong; but we can do it.

One more thought comes to mind. Suffering can be God's means of shaping us to be more like Jesus. He is the potter, we are the clay. God can use pressure to mold us. The purest of gold comes out of the smelter's fire. The finest jewels are formed under pressure. The pressures of suffering produce Christ-likeness in God's children. If we allow it. If we let God have his way. If we wait patiently for God to finish the work.

Suffering is not enjoyable. It's not something we need to seek. Troubles will find us soon enough, sooner if we are sold out to Jesus. But suffering is to be expected; it's a part of life. Receive it when it comes. Let God demonstrate what he can do with someone submitted to him.