Everybody suffers in life. It’s inevitable in a world awaiting full consummation of God’s kingdom. How you suffer in this life makes all the difference in the world. I wrote my first book, The Tenacity of Hope, about the suffering I’ve endured so far in life. People process suffering in different ways. There are some who question a deity who would allow suffering (that’s another post for another day). There are others who wonder if their decisions have led to unnecessary suffering. I decided to learn from my suffering. And I’ve learned at least three things from suffering that I want to share with you all.
1. God May Say No
Prayer is a powerful tool. We have access to God through his son, Jesus Christ. There are some who take this to mean he’ll answer all of our prayers affirmatively if we have faith. Teaching Christians to pray this way sets them up for letdown when God doesn’t answer their prayers.Are we to pray in faith? Absolutely. But we also must prepare ourselves. There are times when God may say no. If we think otherwise, then we are in danger of thinking more of ourselves than we should. Jesus prayed that God remove the cup of suffering that awaited him at Golgotha. But God said no. The cross was God’s idea—an idea that Jesus knew about early in his ministry. A no from God should be met with Jesus’ response—not my will, God, but Your will be done.
2. Our Strength Is Insufficient
Karl Marx firmly believed that religion was the opiate of the people. In short, he thought people used religion as a crutch to help them get through their suffering. It was people’s drug of choice to get past the pain.
Marx forgot one thing. Drugs are temporary, Christ is not. Jesus asks his followers to take on his yoke because it is easy. He asks them to take on his burden because it is light. The one who carries the yoke makes it that way. Burdens too heavy for me, pale in comparison to the weight of sin and death Christ endured. This allows me to process grief in a different way. I don’t approach it based on my ability to climb a mountain to find joy, but in the sufficiency of the finished work of Christ to move that mountain of grief.
Paul was reminded of this truth when he pleaded for Christ to remove the thorn in his flesh. My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.
3. No One Is Immune From Suffering
R.C. Sproul tells a story of a father who was grieving his son’s death. He asked his pastor a heartfelt question. Sproul recalls:
“I remember the story of a distraught father who was deeply grieved by the death of his son. He went to see his pastor, and in his bewildered anger he asked, “Where was God when my son died?” The pastor replied with a calm spirit, “The same place He was when His Son died.”
God Himself suffered, so what makes us immune? In Philippians, Paul speaks of the sanctifying work of suffering when he says he wants to know “the fellowship of [Christ’s] suffering.” Though suffering tries us, it also refines us. It transforms us more and more into Christ’s image and reminds us of the day when there will be no more tears, death, or pain.