Suffering is frequently linked with the word “why.” Why do we suffer? Why does God allow suffering? Why me?
Suffering triggers an immediate desire to understand why. When sin entered the world suffering came along for the ride. We have seasons of peace, seasons of prosperity, and seasons of pain. Even in the good seasons, our lives are sprinkled with suffering. The deeper answers to the why’s are best answered by God.
Knowing why doesn’t change the suffering, but knowing God changes our response.
Finding joy in suffering
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
~ James 1.2-3, NKJV
During my younger years, I often wondered what hell would be like. The Bible tells us that hell is a place of eternal suffering. The worst part of hell isn’t the suffering, it is the absence of God.
I frequently feel like the world is a place of eternal suffering, but it isn’t. Suffering is pervasive, but there are also seasons of happiness. Furthermore, if we have God in our lives, we can actually have joy in the pain, knowing that there is some greater purpose involved. Unlike hell, heaven is a place of eternal peace where we will behold God’s presence forever. I’d much rather suffer for a few years on earth with God in my heart than to spend an eternity in hell without Him. Knowing God and recognizing His presence in every circumstance brings great joy.
As a Christian, we have hope in a resurrection devoid of suffering. We believe that there is a life after this one. We have faith in God to make this possible because Jesus conquered death. Anything we suffer in this life cannot compare with the beauty that awaits us in the next. It is this hope, this confident expectation of good, that brings us joy.
Furthermore, we should be learning that God cares about the inner heart more than the outer circumstance. God can take the twisted mess of our pain and transform us into something far more perfect and precious than we could have imagined. As James tells us, our suffering produces patience/steadfastness/endurance. He is making us more like Him through all that we suffer. If we love God and want to be like Him, this knowledge will ultimately give us the joy we need under fire.
An example of suffering and steadfastness.
As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
~ James 5.10-11, ESV
When a parent finds themselves bereft of a child, they can empathize with the many complaints of Job. Job lost all of his children at once in a series of tragic events. Job suffered more than most of us can imagine.
Job’s initial response was born from a heart devoted to God. Tearing his clothes in grief, he dropped to the dust and cried, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1.21)
How could Job respond with such remarkable acceptance?
Job could still bless the Lord because He devoted His life to the Lord. In spite of all he suffered, in spite of all the “why’s,” he refused to reject God. Job still asked why. Job still made improper assumptions. Job still messed up, and yet James says he is an example of steadfastness because he believed God would vindicate him.
After Job questioned God, this is God’s response in a nutshell: “I am God. You are not.”(Read the full text of God’s response in Job 38-41)
We put too much stock in our own smarts. We think we are so wise, yet compared to God we are quite limited. We are finite and God is infinite. God has ultimate power, while we only have power over our own choices. We see such a short span of time, but God sees the future and knows exactly how this trial can transform you in ways you couldn’t possibly imagine.
Consider another passage in which God has a similar response:
Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
~ Isaiah 40.27-31, ESV
God is Almighty. We are not.
While we suffer or wait or feel confusion about both, we need to keep fixing our eyes on the Lord. Remember His great and precious promises. Remember His qualities.
Patience is a fruit of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit develops this patience within us as we submit to Him. As we endure suffering, wait on God’s timing, and learn to walk by faith and not by sight, God transforms us into something far more beautiful than we could ever have conceived on our own.
When we learn to truly recognize that “It is well with our soul” even when it is not well in the world, we will begin to understand (and exercise) true patience.
This post originally appeared on Elihu’s Corner and was republished with permission.
Elihu Anderson is a surviving California native currently thriving in West Texas. When she isn’t writing for Elihu’s Corner, she is teaching, researching, walking, and book-worming with a cup of chai. Visit Elihu at elihuscorner.com