My sister is the strongest person I know. Over the past few years, she has been through two battles with cancer, two surgeries, and her husband has had heart surgery and a job loss. She should be bitter. She should be questioning God. She should be needing others to lift her up and help her stay strong. But she’s not. Instead, she is an encouragement to everyone in her life. She lifts others up and helps their faith stay strong. My sister seems to have it all backwards when it comes to her attitude towards suffering.
Seeing all the suffering in my sister’s life, and in the lives of other people surrounding me, has caused me to reflect upon the whole issue of suffering in general. Here are a few of my conclusions.
1. Suffering happens. It just does. No one is immune to the pain that this world has to offer. As soon as sin entered the world, our world began to decay, and this includes the human body as well. To live in this world means that there will be times when you will face suffering — it can’t be avoided.
BUT . . . .
2. Suffering is not eternal. Our suffering is only temporary. Some days it might seem like it will never end, but God promises us that there will be no suffering in heaven. One day He will wipe every tear from our eyes and there will be no more crying or pain or death or cancer or unemployment or any of the other horrible things we suffer here on earth. That is what makes my sister so different in her response to suffering. As a Christian, she has this hope of eternal life without suffering and it is this hope that helps her face each new trial here on earth.
3. God is not the one who causes suffering. God does not look down and say, “Hey, that person has gotten a little too comfortable with her life. She needs to suffer awhile so she can learn some character.” No! Let me say it again: Suffering just happens!
I often hear people blame God for everything that happens in their lives. They will say, “Why, God? Why did this happen to me?” Or perhaps they phrase it this way, “Why would God let that happen to . . “. Or the REALLY spiritual ones will say, “Everything happens for a reason.” This thinking is all wrong. Everything does NOT happen for a reason. Saying there is a reason for everything is just a Christianized version of blaming God! Think about it. If there truly is a reason for everything, then God must have a reason, which means God must have caused the suffering in order to bring that reason about. I will say it a third time: Suffering just happens . . . sometimes for no reason at all.
The Bible never promises that our lives will be exempt from pain. Rain falls on both the righteous and the unrighteous. We live in a fallen world, and because we live in a fallen world bad things happen. Let me suggest that the real question we should be asking is “Why not, God? Why not me?” To live in this present world is to live in a world of suffering — a trouble free life is abnormal.
BUT . . .
4. God will help us find purpose in our suffering. Notice I said “IN” our suffering, not “TO” our suffering. There is a difference. Romans 8:28 says that God works all things out for the good of those who love Him. This verse does not say that God causes bad things to happen, or that God has a reason for everything. What it does say is that God will take the bad that happens in our lives and show us how to make good out of it.
God did not cause my sister’s cancer. God did not have some grand purpose in mind when she got sick. She got sick because sickness happens. However, He has worked in her life through her suffering. He has used her testimony to challenge and encourage many, many people. He is using my sister in ways she might not even realize until eternity comes. He has taken her cancer and made good come about. Romans 8:28 is being lived out in her life on a daily basis.
5. God wants us to help the suffering. It is amazing the way Christians have come together to help my sister and her family. I thank God for the church family of which she is a part. They have helped and encouraged her more than they will ever know.
People can truly make a difference in the midst of suffering. It is during these times of intense suffering where Christianity is allowed to shine the most. We need to be willing to get our hands dirty, to risk broken hearts and grief in order to help alleviate the suffering around us. When Jesus was confronted with suffering, he had compassion. He got involved. He reached out his hands to help. We need to be the same way. When we see suffering around us, we need to have compassion. We need to get involved. We need to reach out our hands and help. It is in those moments when Christ’s love will shine, cutting through the darkness and leading people to Him.