by Doug Focht, Jr.
We last considered that there are two aspects to personal suffering: Those things which happen to us which are the result of our own mistakes and sins; and those things that come upon us over which we have no control. Many argue that all suffering is the result of sin. If by that, one is referring to the perfect order portrayed in Genesis in the garden of Eden, and to the corruption of that order by the sin of Adam and Eve, then I would agree. But such is a simplistic approach when considering specific events in our personal lives. Little comfort is extended by answering the question, "why is this happening to me?" with "it's all Adam and Eve's fault." It is, perhaps, the misunderstanding of the nature of their punishment that causes many to think that everything bad that happens to us is a result of something we ourselves have done wrong. A simple look at life will show that this can not be so. Good and bad things happen to both good and bad people.
Cyprian, an early 3rd century "church father" wrote, "When the earth is barren with an unproductive harvest, famine makes no distinction…We have eye diseases, fevers, and feebleness of the limbs the same as others." What Cyprian expressed was a fact of life: The gospel of Christ never promised freedom from physical sufferings. In fact, many of those early citizens of Rome became Christians with the full understanding that it could cost them their lives. Though they had the ability to perform miracles of healing, they, unlike the so-called faith-healers of today, seldom if ever used their powers to relieve their own suffering. Indeed, those miraculous gifts were given for the purpose of confirming the word which they spoke (Mark 16:20). Instead, they healed unbelievers. Should one need further proof, a casual reading of the book of Acts will verify that fact.
Peter did not have enough money to give to a beggar (Acts 3:6), James was killed without fanfare early in the gospel's history (Acts 12:1–2). The apostle Paul often suffered hunger and exposure. He was in constant danger of being robbed. He was shipwrecked three times. The elements did not bow to his wishes but inflicted upon him the same punishment as others (2 Cor. 11:24–27).
We all know of righteous men and righteous women who seem to have known little but suffering and sorrow most of their lives. Perhaps they have lost their spouses in tragic and sudden ways, or they may be suffering from debilitating diseases that waste away the body. In general, we know about them not because they succumb to their situations but because, like Job, they prevail.
If these things happen to the best of people, through no fault of their own, and if the Bible really is God's revelation to us, then there ought to be within its pages an explanation for these perplexing events of our lives. There is; and while the explanation is both logical and profoundly simple, it can only be of help to those who are willing to give themselves up to God's way of life.
Jesus requires of His followers absolute dedication. Nothing less is acceptable. In Luke 14:26, He said,
"If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple."
Since Jesus commanded us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44), it cannot be that here He means for us to hate our own loved ones in the sense that we normally use the word hate. The word hate is used here in a comparative sense; that is, "compared to your love for Me, you should hate these other things, including your own life."
Although the events in our lives may not turn out the way we would like or the way we think they should, in return for our dedication to Him, God promises that all things will eventually work out for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). However, one should not expect to reap the benefits of His promises without upholding its conditions.
What, then does suffering accomplish?
Suffering separates the wheat from the chaff
Jesus said, "…He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Matt. 5:45). In this case, the difference between the believer and the unbeliever is that the believer gives thanks to God for the sun and the rain; the unbeliever gives thanks to no one. And the supreme irony is that while the unfaithful does not thank God for the sun and the rain, he often curses Him when there's too much or too little of either. Suffering can either strengthen or weaken our dedication to God. The more dedicated we are to earthly attachments, whether people or things, the more we grieve when they are removed from us. If we pride ourselves in our health, then we can become emotionally decimated over a disease or ailment. We may see this as God's retribution instead of God's challenge to look beyond our own condition. If our parents, children or spouses are all that we live for—if we love them more than we love the Lord— then when they are removed from us we become overburdened with sorrow. Even those who are dedicated to Christ still hurt when misfortune strikes; they still mourn at the loss of loved ones. Who doesn't? But they don't blame God, nor are their lives continually cluttered with destructive self-pity. Rather, they cling all the more to Him, because they know that only God will not change, will not fail them, will not leave them.
Suffering is necessary for wisdom
James 1:5 promises wisdom to any believer who asks for it. Wisdom is the prudent application of knowledge. Knowledge is gained through reading and studying, but wisdom comes from time and experience. Hard times and hard experiences. What parent has not understood that sometimes children have to learn things the "hard way"? Why should it be any different with God's children? If you have prayed for wisdom, be careful that you don't spurn its instruction when hardships befall you. How do you know that this is not God's training for you?
Suffering teaches empathy
Those who have gone through hard times, when they overcome, not only tend to be more empathetic toward others, but they can often be more helpful than others in lifting up someone who is going through a similar situation. Haven't you ever turned to someone for comfort who has experienced your situation? And what if he or she had not suffered before you?
Suffering offers opportunity
Anyone can serve God when it is convenient, but the one who "keeps on keeping on" is an example for all. We do not gather hope and strength from those who "curse God and die," but from those who continue to be productive and fruitful in their lives despite their misfortune. Remember that old man with two metal knees and a cane who came to every church service? Or the elderly widow riddled with arthritis who smiled sweetly and wrote cards to visitors and to the sick? Or the one who rode a bus 50 miles to church every Sunday, rain or shine? Or the family who lost everything but their faith in a tragic fire? If they can be faithful, so can you. You see? What if there were no metal knees or arthritis? What if there were no fires? What if life was "just a bowl of cherries? What then?
Although suffering is universal, it is the events of our personal lives that test our mettle. Just as persecution strengthens the strong and chokes the weak in faith, so it is with suffering. Those who do not understand its purpose often blame God; those who know God yearn all the more for the day when death and suffering will be swallowed up in victory (1 Cor. 15:54), and strive all the more to be worthy of that day.
We began this study with a consideration of Romans 8:18–25. It is fitting to close it with a quote from chapter 5:4
"…but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope…"
Source: From Growing in Grace, Vol. 1 #9 July 14, 1996
The Problem of Universal Suffering by Doug Focht, Jr.
Suffering is both universal and personal. Nations at war, mass starvation and disease, these are examples of universal suffering. To be precise, all suffering is universal in that it happens to all, but when it happens to me it becomes personal.
The Problem of Personal Suffering -Part 1 by Doug Focht, Jr.
The understanding of suffering does not necessarily ease the pain, but it tends to shorten it, because we see our lives in a different and broader perspective. In this article, we will consider the relationship between universal and personal suffering. We will do this by seeing personal suffering as a microcosm of universal suffering because, after all, that's what it is!
Suffering | General Sermons | Lectionary Sermons | Spiritual/Moral Articles | Malankara World Journal | Malankara World Library
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