The Truth about Suffering
Everyone experiences suffering at some point in their lifetimes. Suffering is painful and difficult for us all. The things that bring suffering do not come from God. It is not a “test.” It is not a “punishment.” It is not some form of twisted “lesson” for you to learn. Suffering is the unfortunate consequence of the presence of sin in this world, and we all must endure it in one form or another. We are in this world as soldiers behind enemy lines, fighting the battle against evil and ushering in God’s Kingdom, and suffering is the cost of doing business, so to speak.
However, in the face of impending suffering, or after it sweeps through our lives, we sometimes have a hard time staying focused on the truth we know from the Lord. Here are some important truths to keep before our eyes as we walk through suffering:
2. Suffering does not define us.
Our identities are established by God, and are stable and secure and unchanging, no matter what circumstances we go through. It is God Who says who we are, not the world, and not our experiences. So in the midst of our suffering, we can always go back to the truth of who we are as a stable foundation on which to stand, along with the certain foundation of Who God is and how much He loves us. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13).
3. Suffering does not determine our feelings.
We often feel like our experiences toss us to and fro like waves and wind, but the truth is, our feelings during and after difficulty are based on how we perceive the suffering, and what we believe as a result of the difficulty, not by the difficult experience itself. Our feelings are our own, and we get to choose them. Paul admonishes us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (II Corinthians 10:5). The way we choose them during suffering is choosing how we think about and how we perceive what we are experiencing.
4. Suffering is transient and temporary.
When we are going through suffering, it can feel as if the experience will never end. However, the saying “this, too, shall pass” is true of suffering. While this truth may not help much in the middle of the difficult experience, it can be a relief to know the experience will end. Specifically related to loss, even though a loss through death is for the rest of this life, the loss is still temporary, because when we join our loved ones in heaven, everything will be restored, and we will see our loved ones again. “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (II Corinthians 4:18).
5. Suffering will be redeemed.
God is our redeemer, and as Job states: “And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes.” (Job 19:25-27). Paul describes God’s redemption this way: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28). We can look to the redemption of God, no matter what the difficulty, because His ultimate redemption has been demonstrated on the cross and in the empty tomb, and we know He always fulfills His promises.
6. God is with us in the midst of suffering.
God never leaves our sides. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1). Just as Jesus did when He stood outside Jerusalem and wept for His children, or when He stood outside the tomb of Lazarus and wept in grief over the impact of death, He weeps with us. Throughout our experiences, He stands with us, holding us up, and bringing us comfort. We can take heart in knowing that we are never alone.
7. Suffering does not write our stories.
Our suffering may be a part of our stories, but it does not get the write our ending and it does not determine our future. Out of great suffering can come tremendous growth, maturation, character, perseverance, and hope – if we walk through the suffering with God. Paul puts it so well: “we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit" (Romans 5:3-5).
As you face suffering and difficulty, may you fix your eyes on Jesus, Whose love never changes, Who will never leave you or forsake you, and Who will bring healing and redemption to your heart.
Change or Homeostasis?
Human beings seek homeostasis and resist change. Homeostasis feels easy, comfortable, familiar, and secure, and we like to feel those things. We prefer those feelings over the alternatives – difficulty, discomfort, unfamiliarity, and risk. The problem with this choice is that homeostasis is the enemy’s purview. Change is a constant in the realm of God. Growth, transformation, restoration, redemption, reclamation, deliverance, revolution, development, conversion, sanctification, emancipation, rescue, salvation, and freedom are all terms of change.
In every day of Jesus’ life, change was His constant companion. One day 5000 people followed Him to hang on His every word; the next day all left Him except His 12 closest friends, and even the 12 were questioned by Him if they would leave Him also. He moved from place to place to place, never knowing if He would be received or rejected. He spoke change with every word: change from the Scriptural interpretations of the Pharisees, change from bondage to sin, change from a life lived for self to a life lived from love. The Beatitudes list change after change after change in attitude and action and result. Jesus called His disciples to leave everything behind of their old lives, and taught them change as a lifestyle: “36 He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins.” (Luke 5:36-38). Paul also speaks of the truth of change: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
If we are to be followers of Christ, we are choosing to reject homeostasis and to accept growth and change as our way of life. The consequences of discomfort and unfamiliarity will come along with our choice, yes. But the freedom, joy, and peace provided by Christ fill us and carry us through, superseding our desires for homeostasis in exchange for a life lived more abundantly. Simply put, you can’t have it both ways. You cannot live in the Kingdom of God (with all of its inherent change) and maintain homeostasis. To choose Christ is the discard the old completely, and to fully embrace the adventure of a life lived for love. - Donna Lane
Donna E. Lane