At some point in our lives we will all experience a tragedy, a physical illness, the death of a loved one or the loss of a dream.
In these moments, doubts and questions will arise. How could this happen? Why me? What did I do to deserve this? How am I ever going to survive this? Where is God in all of this?
I have been there. Three times, in fact.
My father died tragically in his 40’s, leaving me to pick up the pieces of my broken teenage heart.
I battled a dark depression in college that threatened to undermine my faith, my mind and my emotional well being.
And recently, the rapid decline of my physical health and diagnosis of an autoimmune disease left me with more questions than answers.
Do I really trust God to take care of me? Can I really depend on Him to provide what I need? If He really cares about me, why is He letting me suffer? I know He can heal me, but can I keep my faith even if He chooses not to? Do I still believe God is good and loving even when He doesn’t step in to relieve my suffering?
These questions haunted me.
But these questions saved my life.
When you are in pain long enough, you get desperate. Desperate for relief. Desperate for answers. Desperate for God.
Sometimes God seems silent when we suffer. But His silence is not apathy. He is still moving. Sometimes, He waits until we are ready to listen, after our attempts to numb our pain no longer satisfy.
Pain is inevitable. But you can prepare for it.
In a world where pain and suffering seems rampant, it’s critical to remember the truth about suffering so that we will know how to handle it when it comes.
1. Suffering is not pointless. But it can be wasted.
When a doctor performs surgery, he causes pain and suffering in exchange for complete healing and restoration. He goes into surgery with a reason and purpose, for the good of the patient. While the surgery and recovery are unpleasant, the outcome far outweighs the pain.
In the same way, God has a purpose in mind when He allows suffering in our lives. Keeping this in mind in the midst of painful circumstances gives direction and keeps hopelessness and despair from setting up shop in our hearts.
Unfortunately, we don’t always pay attention to our suffering. We may try to numb or control our pain with busyness, accomplishments, family matters, romance, food, social media, etc. In doing so we waste the opportunity.
Too often we focus on changing our circumstances because we’re uncomfortable. But what if by working to get out of our circumstances, we lose the opportunity to learn something from them?
When we’re in pain, we have the chance to look past our hurt and see the bigger picture, asking ourselves what is being accomplished through our pain. More often than not, if we allow suffering to have its way in us, it can bring about lasting change and peace.
2. Suffering reveals the condition of our hearts.
When we find ourselves in pain, we start questioning everything. Why, God? Why are You doing this to me? What did I do to deserve this? And when we don’t get relief, we begin to question God’s character. Maybe God really isn’t who I thought He was.
Suffering reveals our deepest doubts, insecurities, and fears. Pain has a way of bubbling our deep-seeded issues up to the surface. If ignored, these doubts and fears will continue to play out in our lives.
But God is big enough to handle our doubts and questions. If we are willing to face our fears and wrestle with them, we allow suffering to do its full work within us.
Pain and suffering isn’t something we should fear. It’s something we can embrace, knowing that God will always use it for our good and the transformation of our character.
3. Suffering provides the opportunity for a personal encounter with God.
In the Bible, Job was no stranger to pain. He lost his family and entire livelihood in one sudden moment and became plagued by horrible diseases.
At first, Job trusted God. But as time dragged on and his circumstances went from bad to worse, Job began to draw wrong conclusions about God. Maybe He couldn’t be trusted.
Job’s suffering had affected his relationship with his Creator.
And at this crucial moment, God shows up.
But His response is unexpected. He doesn’t fix Job’s problems. He doesn’t apologize for the situation. He doesn’t even give Job a reason why. Instead, God gives Job what he really needs.
When we are suffering, God’s answer is Himself.
When we suffer and our hearts are breaking, God responds by giving us what we need most. He comforts us with His presence. He reminds us of His character. He strengthens our hearts and steadies our hand. He gives us an experience of Himself.
God’s character doesn’t change even when our circumstances do. Only a personal encounter with the living God can give us the strength, peace, and courage we need to face our circumstances.
When I suffer, I need to be reminded of who God is: that He is faithful (2 Tim 2:13), good (Ps 34:8), loving (1 John 4:19), compassionate (Ps 145:8), holy (1 Sam 2:2), forgiving (Ps 103:12), merciful (Lam 3:22-23), patient (2 Pet 3:9), and kind (Ps 117:2). That God is for me, not against me (Rom 8:31) and that He has a good plan for my life (Jer 29:11).
But the most important reminder of all is that God is bigger than me.
He is in control (Ps 22:28). He holds the entire universe in the palm of His hand. He has the ability to both see and govern all the affairs of the world and yet still hears my little prayers, cares about the affairs of my little life, and is intimately working to bring about my good and His glory.
After his encounter with God, Job was fully restored. God did change his circumstances and blessed him with more than he had to begin with.
Sometimes this is our story. And sometimes it’s not.
Regardless, when we encounter suffering we have one of two choices. We can either allow our suffering to lead us away from God or closer to Him. The choice is ours.
Unlike Job, my situation hasn’t changed. But I no longer need it to.
I can be content and live well regardless of my circumstances because I have a God I can trust, who I know is good.
*dusted off and brought to you by the archives!