Suffering is beyond bitter at times. It can be extremely divisive, turning church-goer to atheist, turning resiliency into despondency. Chronic suffering can chip away at every last drop of strength you have. Tragedy can change your life forever.
Maybe you have felt that suffering only seems to get worse and worse. You wouldn’t be wrong to say that. Diseases can worsen. Conflict can intensify. It would be disingenuous to say anything else. But does it always have to be this way? Does suffering have to continue from misery to misery?
I believe there are preventative measures. Suffering doesn’t have to ruin you. It doesn’t have to worsen so much that it puts you into despair. Rather, it can be channelled into something formative.
Maybe if we isolate how suffering worsens, we can mitigate this, and suffer better, suffer more like Christ.
Suffering forces us to ask hard questions. Questions like why does God allow evil and suffering? If you have been a believer for many years, you would have attained some answers just by being at church.
But what happens when we think we know these answers well, but in actuality, we have a very superficial understanding?
There is nothing worse than thinking you know how to deal with suffering, then suddenly you have to suffer the pain of disillusionment when you notice that none of the knowledge actually landed in your heart.
What are the truths I am speaking of?
For the diseased body, there is the promise of a resurrected body. Every tear of sorrow will be wiped away. God is the source of all comfort. God is a rock and refuge. We are promised of a new heaven and earth. We are promised that our suffering messiah understands our pain. God hears our cries and doesn't belittle our trials.
If you have been merely informed of these, you will feel shaky during the trial. But if these have been revealed to you by the Spirit of God, if these truths have resonated deep in your heart, you might respond differently during travail. You might suffer better, you might suffer in a Christ-like way.
Suffering intensifies when we perceive it as punishment. This seems to be the default setting for our hearts and it makes suffering very difficult.
Yet, this doesn’t align with the character of God.
“Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways and live! Why will you die, people of Israel?’” (Ezekiel chapter 33, verse 11)
“Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion because of his greatness of his unfailing love. For he does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow” (Lamentations chapter 3, verse 32 to 33)
God doesn’t enjoy seeing his children suffer.
In Job chapter 1, there is a dialogue between God and Satan. God both permits the suffering caused by the devil and limits it. Job suffered because of the enemy. And God, in his sovereignty, allowed it because he knew he would bring something much better from it.
We suffer because of the fall, and because of the spiritual forces of evil. Not because God loves to punish us.
As children of God, there exists no condemnation. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans chapter 8, verse 1)
Suffering worsens when we don’t process it well enough. We can only bottle it up for so long before it explodes.
Too many times we will skip expressing our emotions and try to feign positivity. Our devotion becomes tainted by an unclear heart. Our praise operating at half strength.
In the Psalms you will find a steady rhythm of processing emotion, then turning to God and placing our trust in him. One cannot sincerely praise God unless they have cleaned out their emotions first.
Pain is not to be avoided, suppressed, dulled or denied. Only till we address our situation with the detail it deserves will we find our hearts clear; that may include a long confession or being very dramatic. Whatever the case, God wants to hear it. God wants our honesty. He can handle it!
The Psalms can help us in this endeavour. They give words to our inexpressible agonies. They guide us through pain. They help us to say, how long O Lord, they help us to say, why are you downcast O my soul? As we read these and meditate on these, we absorb the language. The language becomes encoded in us, and we can express our emotion with authenticity.
Justification to Sin
Suffering can be used as rationale to turn away from God. And when we do this, our suffering multiplies.
If you have suffered at the hands of a believer close to you, it can be easy to walk away from church altogether. If someone has passed, it can be easy to become bitter towards God and stop following him. But this only worsens our suffering.
While the pain can be extremely loud, while the trauma may last, the fact remains, walking away from church is to our own detriment. Robbing us from godly support and encouragement.
Maybe because of trauma it is impossible to reconnect straight away. This is totally understandable. But it should be noted. God can heal our diseases. How much more quickly will God heal our trauma if it means we will engage with the body of believers once again.
It is almost too easy to use suffering as justification to isolate yourself. It’s too easy to slip into vices because of it. Substances, escapism whatever your poison. But when we do this, our suffering worsens. Attempts to self-medicate land us deeper in a pit.
It is a precious truth to know that the blood of Jesus will sprinkle your guilty conscience, and he will wash your body with pure water. Our God is so gracious to rush to accept our repentance. And to rush to give us healing and reconciliation.
Indeed, suffering can be very bitter, but we can stop it from exacerbating into a monster.
Roden Meares enjoys playing basketball, reading comics and going to the gym. He has a passion for evangelising and helping others in their faith through writing.
Roden’s previous articles can be viewed at https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/roden-meares.html