Dr. Jackie Minor
THE BENEFITS OF SUFFERING - What Is God Up To?
It isn’t fun to write a blog on suffering. Suffering is not a topic anyone wants to talk about. It is so much easier to pretend it doesn’t exist. It was difficult to watch and listen this past week as Hurricane Ian left devastation and suffering in its wake. I was not only concerned for family members and friends but also for those educators who will be instrumental in helping pick up the pieces when the waters recede.
It seems as though there has been too much suffering lately. Our natural inclination is to ask, “Why?” Why does God allow suffering? Why hurricanes when He can control the winds and waters with the power of His word (Matthew 8:26-27)? Why illness when He is the Great Physician (Luke 4:40)? Why mistreatment and abuse when He is our defender (Psalm 121)? Why?
I am sometimes apprehensive about asking this question for fear of being disrespectful to my Creator, but I believe our loving and good Father is not caught off guard by our confusion. I trust God welcomes honest and sincere questions when those questions come from a place of humility and openness. Our questions are simply a gateway to grace, an open door to take the hand of God and allow Him to lead us to the answer even though the answer may be one we do not understand (Habakkuk 1-3).
We have all had our own experiences with suffering. When I look back over my life, I know my level of suffering pales in comparison to many. Nevertheless, I can tell you that walking through two miscarriages and suddenly losing my father to a heart attack were extremely painful. The suffering I experienced did not go away quickly. It lingered. I can remember having many conversations with God just trying to survive each day. Every time I wanted to crawl up in a ball and cry, the message I continued to hear in my spirit was…
“I’m here. I understand your suffering. I won’t leave you. Remember the cross.”
This may sound grim, but when I was really hurting, I can remember visualizing Christ dying on the cross. Nothing I was going through could compare to His suffering. I pledged to take my hurt and place it at His feet. For a while, this was a daily act of my will. I knew there was life after suffering, and although I didn’t understand it, by God’s grace I would get through it. Jesus’s suffering had purpose, and I had to trust mine did as well.
Sometimes we experience suffering in our lives as a consequence to sin, but other times suffering comes through no fault of our own. It is simply a part of living in a broken world. It’s during these times we often want to know what God is up to. In the moment of suffering, the answer often does not come, but we can trust that God has a plan (Proverbs 19:21). None of us knows what is on the other side of suffering; however, we can be assured God will use our suffering to make us more like Christ (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
So far this may sound like I am saying we have to just “suck it up and suffer.” In a sense, I guess that might be true. However, understand that I’m not saying we have to like it. Jesus, fully God and fully man, expressed extreme anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:38-44).
Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, so that I am almost dying of sorrow…” He went away a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done...” So, leaving them again, He went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words once more.
I don’t think we will ever comprehend the level of Jesus’s suffering. I always imagine Jesus having it all together, don’t you? However, these verses suggest that He (in His flesh) was at His breaking point. When he said I am deeply grieved and dying of sorrow, he was experiencing intense emotional pain. Strong’s concordance compares His level of pain with that of childbirth. (1) It was excruciating! He didn’t want to suffer. He literally cried out to God over and over, and then came those amazing words that saved you and me.
“…yet not as I will, but as You will.” (v. 39)
Jesus faced intense suffering throughout His life (Isaiah 52:13—53:12). He endured many pains, hardships, sufferings, and sorrows, but He kept His eyes on the final joy of completing God’s purpose. He knew what His suffering would afford those of us who believe. I have learned over time that this is so much more than what I previously thought. Suffering often yields dividends beyond our imagination when we remain obedient and allow God to use our suffering for His Kingdom’s purposes.
Our best example is Jesus himself. Other than our eternal salvation (which is more than enough), how else does Jesus’ suffering benefit us?
· WE HAVE A SYMPATHIZER.
The Bible says Jesus is able to sympathize with us. He understands our weaknesses and temptations. He knows exactly what it feels like to be human (Hebrews 4:15). How is this possible? Because he left heaven, which had to be its own form of suffering, to enter the human race as a man. Jesus knows how we feel because He experienced the same emotions we do. Christ chose to suffer so He could fully empathize with those He loved. Wow!
· WE HAVE ACCESS.
Everyone knows a backstage pass gives one an up close and personal encounter with someone special. Once we accept Christ, we get an all-access pass to God’s throne room where grace and mercy await, and we don’t even have to pay for it!
Therefore let us [with privilege] approach the throne of grace [that is, the throne of God’s gracious favor] with confidence and without fear, so that we may receive mercy [for our failures] and find [His amazing] grace to help in time of need [an appropriate blessing, coming just at the right moment]. Hebrews 4:16 (AMP)
We have direct access to God! We don’t have to approach Him with fear and trepidation. Christ chose to suffer so our failures wouldn’t define us. Because of Christ’s work on the cross, we can encounter God’s favor and live the abundant life He died to give us. The thought of this leaves me speechless.
· WE HAVE HOPE.
Can you imagine a world with no more suffering and sorrow? As believers, we know that this temporary world in which we live is not all there is (John 14:2-3). Jesus chose suffering so we could live as people of hope now, knowing our ultimate destination was eternal life in His presence absent of pain and suffering.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:4-5
When I think of the benefits afforded us through Christ’s suffering, I have to acknowledge that there are probably multiple benefits behind our suffering as well. We may come to discover those benefits during our lifetime, or those benefits may remain a mystery to us on this side of Heaven. Regardless, we can be assured there is purpose behind our suffering. May we all be ready to respond as Jesus did.
“…yet not as I will, but as You will.”