By PKD Lee
The problem of suffering has been with man from the beginning, and they have developed many ways of avoiding suffering. The Buddhist perspective was that suffering came from a desire and so to avoid suffering one needed to eliminate desire from his or her life. While not linking it to suffering, the Bible also seems to encourage is to give up our desire for things of this world in 1 John 2:15-16
"Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world."
and Colossians 3:1-3 "If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God."
Thus, when we surrender our life to Christ, a lot of the suffering of this life disappears, since they do not affect us.
On the other hand, the Bible commands us to love mankind, and this is where we will experience a lot of suffering in our lives. Emotions are from God and are good, but leads to suffering.
Some suffering seem to be at random like when an earthquake hits. All suffer, irrespective of their background or relationship with God. How do we respond to it?
In John 9 Jesus was asked if a person born blind was because of his sin or his parents sin. Jesus responds saying that it was not for sin but to glorify God. Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. Jn 9:3
That is one perspective of suffering. Do not ask why. Rather ask, how can God’s love and character be shown in this situation. John 17:4 says that Jesus glorified God by completing His work. I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. Jn 17:4
In the same manner, we see in every situation what is the work of God that can be done. When my daughter was a few months old she was admitted into a hospital and the doctor kept saying that surgery would be needed. Instead of getting mired in the tension of that period of time, we took advantage of that stint in hospital to distribute new testament and tracts to patients who were willing to take the same and pray for those who asked for prayer. I think that is the way God would want us to respond to situations rather than going into a panic. Finally, in this case, the surgery was not needed.
SIN OF OTHERS
Sometimes we suffer for the sin of others. Usually this is related to material things they deprive us of, but when we have stopped desiring these, there is little others can do to us. But sometimes it is not a question of material things, but of harming us physically like Ahab does to Naboth and his family. Here David gives us the example of how to handle this. David forgave Saul his enmity and did not seek or take revenge but left it all in the hands of God. In these situations we need to trust God, like Paul does in prison when they sing songs to glorify God and witness to the other inmates. There is no anger or talk of revenge.
THE CORRECTION OF GOD
The Bible says “Whom God loves he chastises” Heb 12:6. Sometimes we suffer because of God’s punishment for disobeying him and following wrong values in our life. This can be a problem as suffering which is random or which is because of others sin, can lead to a guilty feeling that we have done something wrong. This is the error Job’s friends were making.
One of the statements Peter makes is the God chastises as a loving Father. When a loving Father chastises his child he lets the child know the reason for the disciplining. So I tell people not to try and find some sin in their life, but try and hear what God is saying. If God is not speaking to you about sin, do not see your suffering as due to sin. If God speaks to you about sin, repent, confess and set it right with God.
SUFFERING FOR YOUR FAITH
1 Peter 3:13-17 speaks of suffering for our faith. We should not be astonished at this, since this is what Jesus has said would happen to us in John 16:1-4, and is to be expected. However, we need to be wise a serpents and harmless as doves and not needlessly create trouble for ourselves. In the sending of the apostles to preach the coming of the kingdom, Jesus told them to leave places which rejected the message and to go where they accepted it. In the same way, we also do not go for confrontation, but step back when people are unwilling to listen to us.
In the same way, in the work place we should not be seen as obstructive, and we should come with plans on how to complete the work correctly rather than doing things in improper ways. Make a strong case for your proposal, on grounds of effectiveness rather than appearing to be speaking from an ‘holier than thou’ position. Do not be judgemental and do not look down on your leaders. They have been appointed by God and we need to respect their position. When you have to suffer for standing for justice and righteousness, count it a privilege and joy.
SUFFERING FOR THE SAKE OF MINISTRY
Colossians 1:24 is a passage which describes the self-inflicted suffering of those who minister for Jesus Christ. "I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church."
Paul says that there is something lacking in the suffering of Jesus and he wants to make that up in his own body. But we know that the suffering of Jesus was complete and all that is required for the salvation of mankind, so what does Paul mean?
The way I understand it, even though the atoning work of Jesus was complete, if this message was not taken to the world outside, the work was incomplete. So Paul is saying, that he wants to complete in his body the suffering involved in taking this message to the world outside.
Ministry involves sacrifice. We do not have the resources to do everything we would like to do. There is not enough time for the family. There is not enough money to provide the best for the children. Without a sacrifice ministry would be impossible.
This suffering needs to be planned as a family and decisions made with a consensus, but needs to be done. Many do not get involved in ministry because of their unwillingness to make these sacrifices. Some impose this suffering on the family without discussion. Both of these are wrong.
So, how do I handle suffering. There is not too much teaching in the Old Testament on this. The book of Job and some passages like Psalm 73 try to deal with it. James and Paul asks us to rejoice in the suffering as it will bring spiritual growth into our lives (James 1:2 and Rom 5:3f). Not only does it lead to spiritual growth but you also experience the consolation of God in your life 1 Cor 1:3f. This experience of God enables you to become more effective in your ministry. Don’t worry about yourself, see how the love of God and the power of God can flow through you to others, in these experiences of suffering. This has been my approach to suffering in my life. And always remember Jesus walks with you.
I trust that you will find the poem Footprints in the Sand helpful in handling suffering. If you are not familiar with this poem hit on the links below.