We seem to spend a lot of time and effort to avoid suffering. When we don’t like a situation, we try to change it. And when you take this to its extreme, we use things like chemicals, food, gambling, sex or other diversions to take a break from our mundane or challenging lives. Or we may invoke an unhealthy defense mechanism, such as denial, to avoid the situation all together. Let’s face it, we mostly want what we want when we want it.
Scripture is peppered with examples of people who suffered. Sometimes it was clearly for God’s sake. Other times it was less clear to them at the time but in the end God used suffering to draw people to him. Think of the Israelites oppressed for 430 years by the Egyptians. Did they know how that was going to work out? And even when they left for their promised land, they still wandered the desert with the anxiety of how they might provide for themselves. Of course, we know the story and how God delivered and provided for them.
Many early Christians suffered for their faith. Legend has it that ten of Jesus’ original apostles met violent, torturous deaths. The apostle Paul suffered significantly during his ministry. Check out 2 Corinthians 11:23-33 for the list of trials he endured. I have wondered if the church would be where it is today without all that suffering. I try to imagine Paul showing up in a new city, preaching his message and testifying to all he’s been through for Christ. It’s a powerful and credible message. It’s through this the early church was built and grew rapidly throughout the known world.
You see, suffering attracts.
In our days, there continue to be bad things that happen to us. We’ve all heard of Christians being persecuted in regions of the world to which they are bring Jesus at the risk of their own physical peril. But suffering continues in other ways, not only for the sake of the gospel.
Many of the testimonies I’ve heard come to a climactic moment of pain at which one is at the end of his or her rope. It’s at that moment one becomes ready to surrender to God. In recovery from drugs and alcohol it’s called “hitting bottom”. When we hit bottom, we are now ready to move forward, ready to hear and act on what God holds in store for us.
Suffering not only attracts but it opens us up to needed change.
When we suffer, it becomes clear that we are not in charge. Suffering reorders our lives; it resets our priorities. Trivial things no longer have meaning. We set our sights on the meaningful. When suffering hits, when the pain is the greatest, God loves to show up. He knows we’re ready.
Why does suffering exist?
That’s a big question….too big for this blog. Let’s just leave it at God allowing the world to operate on our (yes, our) free will. With sin and evil in the world, lots of bad stuff happens. Sometimes God steps in the middle and averts the tragedy. Sometimes He allows things to run their course. We don’t know why He does what He does, but only that He has a plan, a big long-term plan, and that He loves us and has our best interests in mind.
God is also patient. That might be one of his best characteristics. He wants to give as many people the opportunity to choose Him before He provides His final judgment on us. In the meanwhile, suffering happens.
Could it be that as the end times near and God’s patience runs to it’s end, that we may be called to suffer for the sake of our faith? If suffering attracts others to Christ as it did in the early church AND if God in his patience wants to employ an effective means to draw others to Him, could it be that suffering is the key?
It’s a difficult thing to consider…I know. I’m not trying to convince you to be a fan of suffering. But there is a practical reality here. Suffering is useful. And God has proven time and time again that He shows up in suffering. So as we struggle in this life and we work to change our circumstances, consider asking God, “Father, what is it that you have in store for me in this suffering?”
Then, remain open to where He takes you.
(photo credit: http://www.answersingenesis.org)