Suffering is an inescapable part of living in a sinful world. Life is full of trouble. No one goes through life unscathed. The Book of Ecclesiastes teaches: “For in much wisdom is much grief, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.” (Eccl. 1:18).
I was fascinated to hear the famed evangelist, Dr. Billy Graham, being interviewed on Larry King Live many years ago, say that he considered his illnesses “a gift of God.” This statement intrigued Larry King, who greatly admires Billy Graham. Other religions cannot fathom the concept of an all-powerful God suffering on behalf of His people suffering when they suffer, feeling their pain.
No one is immune to suffering. We may suffer in a variety of ways: financially, the loss of friendship through hurtful words or gossip, the death of a loved one, divorce, the alienation of a child, or the loss of a job.
The Bible teaches the creation itself is suffering until a day when it will be redeemed.
Dr. Dan Allender speaks of our God, Who also suffers, and looks forward to the day when He will bring His people to be with Him. St. Paul describes it this way: “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groaning which cannot be uttered.” (Romans 8:26).
Beloved, when you suffer, God suffers and He feels your pain. God came to earth in the person of Christ in order to understand humanity and, ultimately, to die an agonizing death for us.
Sometimes God allows suffering to come into believers’ lives in order to strengthen their faith. Suffering provides the opportunity to trust God. When we suffer, we are in good company, for Christ also suffered. He understands. He will be with us all the way. We can commit our lives to Him. “Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.” (I Peter 4:19).
Jesus bore the full and complete penalty of sin and suffered judgment so God’s children would never be separated from His love. Jesus’ death on the cross not only cleanses us from all sin, but it heals. “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.” (Romans 8:16, 17).
Suffering, I believe, also purifies the heart by deepening the desire for the day when all tears will be wiped away, and we shall be in the presence of the One who is best described as “love.”
Our growing discontent with the sin and evil in this world increases our hopefulness for heaven. In the pain and loss of loved ones, heaven becomes sweeter, dearer and more precious.
Suffering is common to all people. And being a Christian is not a “get out of suffering free” card. No better experience of this principle can be found than in the Book of Job. Job found that his deepest desire was not for relief, restitution of his losses, or a return to his reputation. In spite of his great sorrow, suffering awakened in him a deeper desire and hunger for God.
Maybe you are walking the dark road of suffering. The entire Bible is a story of a “sacred love” – of God’s immeasurable love toward you, a love made complete in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This love is wide enough to cover every sorrow and deep enough to swallow the worst pain imaginable.
Our Daily Bread told the remarkable story of Joseph Park, the famous pastor of London’s City Temple in the 19th century. His wife died after an agonizing illness. Parker later said he would not have allowed a dog to suffer as she did. Heartbroken, he confessed publically that for a week he had even denied that God existed.
From that experience he gained a deeper and stronger personal trust in Jesus’ death- destroying resurrection. He began to testify: “I have touched the bottom and it is sound.”
The Risen Christ proclaims His victory over the grave: “And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me saying, to me, ‘Do not be afraid, I am the First and the Last, I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, and I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.” (Revelation 1: 17, 18).
Hold fast, dear one, to the mighty Victor over life’s sorrows and death. Hold fast to Jesus; place your faith in our Savior as you struggle through life’s worst crises. And with Dr. Billy Graham, and countless fellow pilgrims, may we see our suffering as a “gift of God.”
(Dr. Gary Heikkila is a Certified Master Chaplain, CMC, for Homeland Security, and a Minister-at-Large.)