Suffering, Part 3

If you’ve coasted through life with no trials, you are rare. Most of life is beset with trial, because this is a fallen world. People sicken and die. Friends betray us. Families break apart. Tragedies come. Some have more Job-like trials than others, but all of us have trials.

“All discipline is for the moment unpleasant, but later it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

Discipline is unpleasant. I’m sure we all agree. But what about the harvest?

I’m in the middle of discipline now. My health is disintegrating due to an autoimmune disorder. Ironically, with so many outside threats, my own body betrays me, attacking and destroying itself. Nowadays I function at about 20%. My workdays are largely unproductive, my emotions often frayed by the constant pain and flu-like fatigue. I am isolated and frequently lonely.

I mourn what I once was. I yearn for what I cannot now be. I lament. “Lament is bringing our grief and our protest before the Almighty when life doesn’t make sense.” (CLICK for Relevant Magazine article).

Job-like, I sit in the ashes scraping my boils. I’m in a place of questioning, not of God’s goodness or ability to work all things together for my good, but of attempting to comprehend God’s purpose for me in this suffering.

Why this? Why now? I was in full stride.

He has broken my strength in midcourse;
he has shortened my days.
“O my God,” I say, “take me not away
in the midst of my days—
you whose years endure
throughout all generations!”

(Psalm 102: 23-24 ESV)

What is your purpose for me now, Lord? How am I to use the gifts you’ve given? What am I to do? How do I not lose heart? How do I hold fast in these difficulties that continue, perhaps for the rest of my life?

How, dear suffering Savior? The answer is contained in you, Lord, the One who willingly yielded up his life in midcourse. You understand my heart.

Hebrews 12:4-11 helps us discern the hows and whys – the harvest of growth in holiness and of peace.

4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” 7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Hebrews 12:4-10 ESV, v. 11 given above)

I’ve been spinning round this chapter for over a month, and I’ve been in this book for almost a year. It’s been a lifeline.

The recipients of this letter had suffered great loss for decades. Therefore, what is written to them is definitely applicable to us, no matter how we suffer.

Both Job and these recipients give us a worse-case scenario to examine. Joni Eareckson Tada noted that the more difficult our suffering, the more encouragement and hope we can provide for others. When others see us, no matter how they suffer, they can then reason, “If the Lord can care for her in THAT, then surely he will care for me.”

Christians suffer for many reasons. This is one – to give hope to others.

But here is another. “The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son he receives” (Hebrews 12:6). Discipline, chastisement, and trial are not merely meted out when we sin willfully. There is a higher purpose.

God made it abundantly clear that Job was a righteous man, blameless in his day. He was not chastised for willful sin. In like manner, the recipients of Hebrews underwent hardship because they were faithful to the Lord and his people (Hebrews 10:32-39).

However, all of these sufferers had sinful natures. Like us, they were flawed. Job and the Hebrews recipients were all in need of growth, and they all grew as a result of their trials.

The Greek word translated “chastisement” here (mastigoo) includes the whole range of trials and tribulations God providentially ordains for his children’s lives. These work together like discipline to teach us to mortify sin and to nurture faith. They are always designed for our good.

All of us need to learn to squash sin and to nurture faith. It’s easy to be faithful when all is going well, we are blessed, and the sun is shining. But is that faith?

What happens when it is dark, nothing goes well, we lose all our stuff, and our boils hurt so badly that we sit in the ashes and scrape? Will we trust God then?

There must be a test to prove the metal. Do we really believe, even when our emotions are fractured, our losses are never recouped, our friends pronounce judgment, our spouses or loved ones desert us, and we’re left all alone in our suffering?

My next post is about God’s remedy in our suffering, but for now, I urge fellow sufferers to remember that God is with us in the suffering. He will see us through, no matter what it is and even if it never relents. And we will grow in it.

If we feel deserted or alone, that is a deception, because we are not. Our emotions are indicative of nothing but our emotions. The truth is that God is faithful, no matter how we feel in the lowest of lows. He is with us. He never deserts us.

He is teaching us to trust him. Will we learn the lesson?

Share the encouragement:

God is with us in the suffering. He will see us through, no matter what it is and even if it never relents (Click to Tweet). 

If we feel deserted or alone, that is a deception. We are not. Our emotions are indicative of nothing but our emotions (Click to Tweet).

The truth is that God is faithful, no matter how we feel in the lowest of lows. He is with us. He never deserts us (Click to Tweet).