“Those who suffer He delivers in their suffering.” Job 36:15
Why must we endure suffering?
The question of suffering has plagued mankind since the days of Adam and Eve, and the answers we have crafted vary far and wide, often raising even more questions. Why do some suffer and others seem to live a life of ease? What possible good can come from suffering? Why would a loving God let His creation suffer? How can we avoid suffering? Should we avoid suffering?
I have had seasons of suffering, and so have you. At times I thought I would not survive those sufferings, the depth of pain and struggle was more than I could bear. I have prayed for people I love in their times of suffering. I have looked around at the ease of others, and questioned God’s fairness is allowing me to suffer while He showed His favor to someone else. At the same time, someone else has considered my life one of ease and comfort in comparison to their own sufferings. We will all encounter trials and troubles – no one, no matter how wealthy, brilliant, beautiful or godly, will be exempt from suffering. I have wrestled for some kind of understanding in the matter of suffering. By no means do I think I have all the answers or have figured out God’s mind on the subject, but I have found tremendous insight and comfort in His Word, and I hope it will be a blessing to you.
I find that suffering is one of God’s most effective tools in shaping us. Like a sculptor with a chisel, sometimes God must use His tool of suffering to “chip away” at those things in our lives that would mar His finished masterpiece. His plan is to make us like His Holy and Perfect Son, Jesus Christ, and He must remove anything from us that is not Christ like. It is a lifelong and often painful process. We can take comfort in knowing that the Father also allowed His Beloved Son to suffer. The writer of Hebrews identifies two reasons for the suffering of Jesus. Hebrews 2:9 says that “he suffered death so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.” In His great mercy and grace, God allowed His Son to suffer that we might be saved from eternal death, that is, eternal separation from Him. This thought completely fills me with awe: Jesus Christ endured separation from His Father so that we would not have to. He endured tremendous suffering for you and me. Amazing! Hebrews 2:10 follows by saying, “It was fitting that God should make the author of [our] salvation perfect through suffering.” If Jesus was made perfect through suffering, and God’s purpose for us is to be like Jesus, we will also endure suffering as God’s means to achieve His end. This is why Peter wrote “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1: 6-7)” The good that comes from suffering is that our faith is being perfected and we are becoming more and more like Christ.
As I was reading recently in Jeremiah, I discovered something I had never considered before. Jeremiah 48 is God’s message of coming destruction against the nation of Moab, one of Israel and God’s many enemies. Jeremiah 48: 11 says “Moab has been at rest from youth, like wine left on its dregs, not poured from one jar to another-she has not gone into exile. So she tastes as she did and her aroma is unchanged.” You see, in making wine, the grapes are first crushed to extract the juice which is placed in bottles or wine skins and allowed to ferment. During fermentation, the dregs, or sediment, settle at the bottom of the container. After forty days the wine is poured into another container to allow the dregs to be removed. If the dregs remain, the wine becomes too sweet and thick and it is spoiled. Moab had always been largely at peace, and their turmoil-free life had made them spoiled. The Lord gives the same description of the city of Jerusalem when he says, “I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs, who think the Lord will do nothing, either good or bad. (Zephaniah 1:12)”
Sometimes God has to “shake” us out of our complacency. I know that this has been true for my life. God has used times of suffering to pour me from one container to another so that He can remove the dregs, and keep me from become thick and spoiled in the syrupy sweetness of complacency. If you find that hard to believe, consider that the Gospel of Christ and the Holy Spirit are the most powerful and effective in countries where Christianity is prohibited and Christ-followers are persecuted. The suffering they are enduring for the Name of Jesus Christ strengthens their faith in ways the Western Churches do not see, because – at least for now – we do not endure real suffering for our faith. We have become satiated and complacent, and our witness as the Body and Church of Christ has become thick and sweet on its dregs. Is it any wonder our nation has such disregard for God – as if to say “the Lord will do nothing, either good or bad.”?
Suffering in the life of those who claim the name of Christ is not without purpose. Suffering shakes us out of our settled complacency, and removes the influences of the world that threaten to spoil our witness. Suffering makes us more like the One who suffered for us, perfecting us to fulfill God’s purpose and will. Revelation 2:10 is a powerful message to all of us as we endure suffering: “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer…Be faithful, even unto the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
Holy God, I do not want to be complacent in a world of people who think “the Lord will do nothing…” Shake me up that I may be a witness for Jesus Christ. Amen