Can Faith in God Help Us Triumph Over Suffering?
“For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.” (Philippians 1:29)
Suffering, and the pain that accompanies it, allows the works of God to be shown, to become manifested, through us. For this reason, when we're going through periods of suffering and pain, there is room for hope that what we're going through is not an end in itself, but a pathway to something greater.
Does God care about what you’re going through when you’re suffering? Yes. Whether it is suffering in the body, the mind, or the soul, God cares. But I believe God cares more about where you’re growing to, than what you’re going through. I believe God desires the end result of all suffering to be greater strength. Greater wisdom. Greater common sense and knowledge of the world and of His kingdom. Whether it is achieved through our spirit, mind or body, if we are tuned in to the teachings of Christ, I believe we can and should emerge strengthened from periods of suffering and trial.
Whenever we go through a season of suffering, it is our human inclination to ask, “Why?” We ask this question because it’s hard for us to understand why a loving God would allow us to go through prolonged periods of suffering that test our faith.
In John 9, Jesus was faced this question from His own disciples. Jesus’ response to them is also His response to us. The Scripture says:
“And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.”
Think of Suffering as the Refining of Gold . . .
God uses suffering to open our minds up to new possibilities and new chances to grow stronger, spiritually. Why through suffering? Because it takes testing the limits of strength to make anything stronger. Pushing your body beyond what you might think are your physical limits is painful, but if done enough and properly, it will help you to gain strength. It is during times of pain and suffering that we discover our potential for growth, because it takes refinement akin to “trial by fire” for God to reveal to us our shortcomings, so that we can prepare to have them strengthened.
Just as gold is refined by fire, God allows us to go through struggles and trials where we must endure suffering and strife, so that we can identify and begin to eliminate our impurities, and so that we can grow stronger in wisdom and faith. Because once fire melts gold, the refiner removes the impurities, and the end result is something more pure. As the Bible tells us in Malachi 3:2-3:
“But who may abide the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap: And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness.”
It’s important to remember that everyone goes through some kind of suffering. It is a natural part of life. The Bible teaches us in Hebrews 2:9-10:
“But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.”
It comforts me to know the Son of God, Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the purpose of suffering and death, experienced suffering for every one of us. God used suffering to make “perfect” His son, the captain of our salvation.
Jesus Suffered Too . . .
Let us never forget that God came to earth in human form to go through human suffering and pain. In the body of Jesus Christ, He responded much like any of us would if we had to go through what He went through on that cross at Calvary. While suffering on the cross, it was not once, not twice, but three times that God the Son asked God the Father if there was some other way for the prophecy to be fulfilled, other than the treacherous death He was going through.
I'm sure Jesus felt alone and rejected when He asked, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” God, in the body of man, was being crucified. As blood was pouring from His body through His aching wounds, He was being tormented physically and mentally. What He went through--what He endured physically, mentally, and spiritually, shows me that it can help, when we're going through periods of pain and suffering, to remember how Jesus suffered on the cross at Calvary.
Jesus' suffering was preordained by God. In fact, hundreds of years before Jesus was even born, the prophet Isaiah said He would endure suffering. Isaiah 53:3-4 says:
“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.”
There Are Seasons and Reasons for Suffering
When we take time to remember what Jesus went through in the days before he ascended to Heaven, it should be easier for us to understand that God allows us to go through seasons of pain and suffering too, in order to bring us to a higher place. Some people believe God uses suffering to punish them for wrongdoing. But Jesus went through pain and suffering, and He was without sin. That says, to me, that God does not use suffering and pain as a way to punish us for sin. Rather, it is because of sin that we all live in a world where pain and suffering is an unholy part of life.
God allows us the chance to gain something good as a result of enduring pain and suffering. Jesus ascended to Heaven and now serves at the right hand of God as part of the Holy Trinity. Where will our pain and suffering allow us to rise to? Will we allow it to lift us up as God has designed? Or will we blame God for it and then allow it to bring our spirit down through mental depression, so that Satan can work his magic in our lives instead?
Yes, Jesus Christ suffered too, at the hands of men. He suffered one of the most evil and agonizing forms of execution that mankind has ever devised. He was persecuted, taunted, tortured and crucified, so He knows what it feels like to go through suffering of the most heinous and vicious kind. And it is because He lived, and because He went through unconscionable suffering, that He feels for us when we are suffering. He weeps with us when we are weeping.
God desires for us to emerge from suffering stronger. But if we choose not to believe God’s words, we run the risk of allowing mean, contrary spirits to come into our lives. The father of mean and disobedient spirits, Satan, will tell you that suffering is God’s fault and that you should blame Him for all things bad and evil. God is all powerful, Satan will tell you. He could alleviate suffering from the world with a wave of His hand, but He won't. So, he'll reason, you should flee, and go away from God, because He is responsible for all the pain and suffering you see in the world.
Too often, a lot of people listen to the voice of the Naysayer, instead of to the voice of God. And that's too bad, because Satan is only full of lies and empty promises. Just as he lied to Adam and Eve as he enticed them to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he also lies to you and me when he tries to entice us into disobedience and unbelief.
If suffering is not meant as punishment, then will God ever put an end to it? Yes. God has promised us that there will one day come an end of time as we know it, and that is what will bring about an end to all suffering.
Before that day arrives, it is a good idea for Believers to learn as much as we can about God’s word, so that we’ll know how to live our best lives on earth. We already accept that life is not a great big carnival ride that we're on for the purpose of living our lives any way we want. We know that God has given us life for a godly reason, and we understand that we are on earth to live our lives in service to Him.
If we can learn to live while keeping these thoughts in mind, I believe we'll begin to see suffering and pain as growing, learning, and strength-building experiences. And, as we grow stronger through it, we will emerge better able to help others learn how to grow in their spiritual development while seeking and obeying the word of God.
© 2012 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD