I spend my days as a counselor walking alongside people who are experience pain and suffering. Many never imagined they would need a counselor but neither could they have imagined the depths of their pain nor the desperation they feel to ease the pain. I enjoy my work, but it is not for the faint of heart. The most common question my client’s seem to ask is “why?” And I often have no answer.
This week I had the honor of speaking to a group of high school students on that very topic. (Shout out to my friends at CORE, especially my sassy, sweet senior girls!) What better time to consider the meaning of suffering than during Lent, the church season where we remember Christ’s journey to the cross, the ultimate in suffering.
First of all, God has MUCH to say about this topic! The word “suffering” is used nearly 200 times and the concept of healing is mentioned 300 times in the Bible. It seems to me that there are four main reasons we experience suffering.
- Our own sin: King David lusted after another man’s wife, slept with her, got her pregnant, and then had her husband murdered. As a result, God took away born from that affair and Israel experienced war and conflict throughout David’s reign. Similarly, when I live outside of what God’s plan and purpose for me, I experience the negative consequences of those decisions.
- Other people’s sin: the prophet Jeremiah watched the people of Israel continually disobey God. Despite Jeremiah’s constant warnings, Jerusalem was destroyed and the Israelites were exiled. To top it all off, Jeremiah was considered a traitor by his own people. Sin has a ripple effect. My sin effects those around me and the sin of those around me has an impact on my life. I would argue even natural disasters and disease are the results of sin, or living in a broken world that is no longer as God designed it to be.
- Satan: Job did not know the origin of his suffering, but it was the direct result of Satan challenging the devotion and trust Job would have in God. Thankfully, Jesus dying on the cross defeated Satan giving us power over him. However, Satan is still a thief and a liar whose goal is to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10).
- Our salvation: The apostle Paul was whipped, beaten, jailed, shipwrecked, stoned, and homeless all for the sake of sharing the gospel of Jesus with others. As Christians, we share in Jesus’ sufferings and Jesus promised that we would be hated for loving Him.
Interestingly, David, Jeremiah, Job, and Paul all seem to respond to suffering in a similar way. They trusted God’s character in the midst of their darkest hour. David wrote numerous Psalms about God’s faithfulness, protection, and trust-worthiness. Jeremiah’s response to suffering was, “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:21-23) After a dialogue with God about his suffering, Job’s conclusion was, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, to wonderful for me to know.” (Job 42:3) And Paul perhaps said the most about suffering. 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 says, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” And later in verses 16-17 Paul says, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”
So I have to wonder if knowing why hurt happens would really make a difference. Would you really respond to the hurt any differently if you knew why it was happening? Would the wound really hurt any less?
I think a better question is whether or not you will choose to trust God’s character in the midst of the hurt. Do you trust that God is good? Do you trust that God loves you? Do you trust that He is both able and willing to heal the wound and ease the pain?
But how do we learn to trust God in the midst of our pain and what do we DO when we are wounded? Look for that in next week’s blog.