Most of us live trying to juggle two inclinations.
On the one hand we are very much modern western “elites” who live in the most affluent society in history. We enjoy comforts and conveniences once only accessible to royalty. We live as long or longer lives than ever before. We have incredible medical care, surgeries, medications, therapies and treatments.
All of which has kind of given us the luxury of thinking that trials and suffering are an aberration to the good life, and can be mostly limited or even eliminated. For the most part we see absolutely no possible good in suffering.
On the other hand most of us tend to still have enough common sense, and many of us still remember the fairy tale about “The Princess And The Pea”, to understand that it is not healthy for a kid to grow up being protected from all trials and suffering. We know that falls and scraped knees and losing a game and being spurned by one’s crush and not having the highest marks or the shiniest bicycle can all be traumatic but are a necessary part of healthy growing up.
In a sermon on suffering Timothy Keller suggests that our modern Western culture, because of our affluence and scientific advancement, is the first culture/religion in the history of the world to suggest that suffering is a useless and potentially avoidable experience in life.
Pastor Keller says that every other culture and religion has assumed that suffering is an unavoidable part of life and has sought to somehow understand it and make the best of it. He points out how poorly equipped to handle significant suffering Westerners have shown themselves to be, whereas poorer and less “advanced” folks from other parts of the world seem to be far more resilient and stubbornly joyful when likewise afflicted.
We would do well to follow our common sense about what is healthy for kids to grow up healthy and apply it to all of us.
Last week I was pondering what to say in a meditation at a worship service in a long-term care home. What came to me was that it might be helpful to suggest to these folks powerful lessons about life and faith spoken of in the Bible and which they have already learned over their long lives.
The first thing I mentioned was that they had learned that suffering is a not-to-be-denied part of life, it is foolish of our culture to pretend otherwise, and our best response is to not focus on it or let it overwhelm us. I Peter 4:12-13 says “do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you, testing you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings.”
The point is not to be happy if you are suffering but to choose to think about it in such a way – “this is not unusual, we are suffering as Jesus did” – that makes it possible to still experience joy in life.
Secondly, I mentioned that these older folks, some of who were part of the “Greatest Generation” – those who had grown up during the Great Depression – had learned that suffering can make you stronger. Romans 5:3-4 says “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.” Looking back these folks could see that they had learned many valuable lessons and been made stronger in the experiences of trials and suffering they had lived through.
Thirdly, I mentioned that these older folks had learned that God is especially near to and caring of people who are going through suffering. II Corinthians 1:3-7 says “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”
God pours out His comfort upon people who are grieving and suffering, and thereby makes it possible for them to become channels of God’s comfort for others in similar distress.
Fourthly, I mentioned that through their times of suffering these older folks had learned a powerful ‘secret’: “I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13)
These folks had learned that with God giving them strength they could be content in life no matter the abundance they enjoyed or the lack thereof they suffered, that with God’s help they could overcome in any and all circumstances of life.
Finally, I mentioned that through their times of suffering these older folks had experienced a growing sense even assurance of the truth of Paul’s words in Romans 8:35-39 “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
They found that the more they trusted themselves to the love and care of God the more that love and care became real and the more they realized that evil and suffering are strong but God and His loving arms wrapped around us are stronger. With this assurance they were able to live courageously and sacrificially through the hard times no matter how bad.
Submitted by Dave Tiessen