This is part 2 in a series on suffering, in which I reflect on some Bible passages and how God is keeping his word in my life as he uses suffering to transform me. Here’s the first thing God has been teaching me.
1. Suffering reminds us that we are part of this fallen world
For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Rom 8:22-23)
Deep down, in some hidden part of me, I think I’m exempt. I’m convinced that life isn’t meant to be this hard. That God owes me healing. That he owes my son relief. That the fact that I pray, “Heal my son!”, and he wakes up sick, calls God’s goodness into question.
I am astonished! dismayed! horrified! that God hasn’t stepped in and taken this away.
It shows how little I believed God when he told me suffering would come (1 Pet 4:12-13). That this life would sometimes feel long and weary (Eccles 1:1-11 cf. Gal 6:9; 2 Thess 3:13; Heb 12:3, 5). That those who follow God will get sick and not always be healed and will one day die (Acts 9:37; 2 Cor 12:7-10; Phil 2:26-27; 2 Tim 4:20).
That suffering actually hurts (Heb 12:11). That life in this fallen world will make us groan and sigh and weep (Ps 6:6-7, 90:9; 2 Cor 5:2-4). That the pattern of the Christian life is suffering then glory (Rom 8:18; 1 Pet 5:1). I believed all this in theory, but suffering rubs my face in the truth.
It also shows how myopic my vision is, how loveless my perspective, how self-absorbed my heart. I know, at some theoretical level, that people are suffering agonisingly across the world. I’ve watched the news. I’ve read the stories. Seemingly, other people’s suffering fits with my faith just fine.
But when suffering touches me and mine, it’s a different story. Suffering is a blunt instrument battering faith on the head. My faith reels. And the suffering of others begin to sweep in on me, to mean something to me.
We are part of this fallen, frightening world (Rom 8:18-25). We belong to those around us. When I suffer, it drives me to feel this, to pray with tears, to love. I realise I’m part of this place, and this is good.
It’s good that Christians aren’t exempt from the suffering of those around us. It’s good that we share it. Otherwise, how can we reach out to those around us? How can I weep with those who weep, unless I know what it is to weep (Rom 12:15)? How can I help the weak, unless I know myself to be weak?