Joy in suffering


"Christianity teaches that, contra fatalism, suffering is overwhelming; contra Buddhism, suffering is real; contra karma, suffering is often unfair; but contra secularism, suffering is meaningful. There is a purpose to it, and if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine." -Tim Keller

My phone rings. On the other side, I hear a voice - sometimes panicked, other times dejected, defeated or anguished - informing me something terrible has happened. The calls have included the unexpected death of a close friend, the news my younger brother has been in a severe accident and is being rushed into an emergency spinal fusion, or the blood tests the doctor ran show some unusual findings.

All of these situations have one thing in common: suffering. Someone is suffering. Suffering looks different to every person; it's a unique experience. To Jonah, suffering looked like sitting in the belly of a whale. To Joseph, suffering was being sold into slavery. To Jesus, suffering came in the form of an excruciating execution in order to become a living sacrifice so you and I could walk with Him. To me, suffering currently looks like watching my future husband battle several severe illnesses modern medicine does not recognize.

I've learned more about suffering than I ever wished to in the past year and a half. Who really signs up to suffer? Well, we did. When we entrusted our life to Christ, we also willingly agreed that suffering for Christ may become a part of our lives.

"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." James 1:2-4

James reminds us how Christians are to live. He opens his letter with these words, "Consider it all joy when you meet trials of various kinds…." Joy is such a strange thing to feel towards suffering, isn't it? Why not something more practical, something more in tune with our human nature, like fear?

Within the last few months, a fellow believer and a doctor informed me the reason my future husband hasn't been healed is because he doesn't have enough faith. The doctor in essence said my future husband doesn't truly believe enough that God will heal him from his current suffering. Honestly, I wanted to punch this doctor because who is he to say that about this amazing, godly man who has more faith than anyone else I know? I wanted to question what Bible he had been reading, but then I was filled with an overwhelming sadness for him. He was so afraid of pain and suffering, that his fear had completely warped his understanding of the saving grace of our Father.

Sadly, I see this anti-suffering way of thinking slowly permeating not only our culture, but Christian thinking. Yes, there is a small truth buried in this thinking: God did not intend for us to suffer, but we now live in a sinful and fallen world. Peter reminds us of the following: "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed" (1 Peter 4:12-13).

I see two things in these verses:

  1. We are to rejoice in suffering because it is a reflection of our Savior suffering to redeem us from our sins. It is a testament to a relationship with our amazing God. And it's purpose it to drive us closer to Christ!
  2. His glory will be revealed through our suffering. Jonah or Joseph may not have understood their pain while it was happening, but we can read the end of their stories. We can clearly see God used their suffering for his glory.

We may not yet be able to read the end of our stories, but what trials we are facing now will be used for the glory of our Savior. The question is, how will we decide to view our suffering? With joy or with fear?

Go with parrésia,
Rachel

Related articles: A Holy Week reflection on suffering / Understanding persecution in North Africa / Stop cowering from the lion, try chasing it instead