“For YOU created my inmost being. You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise YOU because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from YOU when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious are YOUR thoughts to me, O God!” Psalm 139: 13 – 17a.
Seattle Aquarium. “Then the Lord answered Job from the whirlwind; Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words? Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much. Who determined its dimensions, and stretched out the surveying line? What supports its foundations and who laid its cornerstone as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” Job 38:1-7
The image, above, with its heading and this food’s connotation of deliciousness and specialty, may seem a strange photo to use for an essay on adversity. But suffering as a privilege and an honor, brought into my life as part of God’s loving, personal, overall purpose for me, is a teaching found throughout the Bible!
I know. We don’t LIKE to think about that. Those are NOT the verses we love most to underline. It’s completely understandable, even GOOD, that this WAY of looking at the results of the experience of suffering (not the suffering itself!) in my life as a “delicacy” is not a way of looking at the topic that can be embraced while I am still going through the experience. Rather, it’s for afterward; sometimes, beginning a long time afterward.
While we still are in the process of going through the fiery furnace, whatever the circumstances of it may be, we don’t like it and we don’t appreciate it and it hurts. It hurts BADLY. It is SO okay to be in that place. We can stay in that place, without condemnation, for as long as we need to. But the Word of God teaches that our characters, our personhood do and does become refined through the experience of suffering IF we decide to trust God with our suffering and continue to walk in that trust of God, making a decision to refuse to become bitter and cynical about it all.
It may sound trite but, long ago when it was my turn to go through suffering, I felt strangely comforted by what a quietly listening friend murmured twice, reminding me of the simple truth, as I poured out my heart to her. “It won’t always feel this bad. This, even this, will pass. Things WILL be better.” Just being reminded that the pain was not going to last forever at that same intensity, by a real, trusted and respected voice outside of my own head, HELPED!
Another thing I learned is that the same little things don’t comfort everybody – what helps – in the middle of a time of suffering – is different for each person, depending on our varying make-ups and personalities. Isn’t it a fascinating tribute to God’s creativity and complexity that we are all so different one from another and yet with such commonalities?
There’s something more, and it’s very special! The Christian scriptures have an underlying but clear and consistent theme of how God, in the end will take our suffering (if we let Him) and actually “turn it around on its head”, actually “make it to work backwards”, bring GOOD and REDEMPTION, out of it, specifically. This is a great mystery, and something only God would even have the idea for let alone be able to accomplish. If we never experienced suffering, we probably would be more shallow, as well as more selfish. There is a depth and a beauty that comes, in the long run, from suffering. And, having gone through DOES mark us, and change us, for life. At the very least it helps us to have more empathy for the many others all around us who also are going through or will go through, suffering, and at the most, God’s “most”, it actually transforms our lives in such deep ways that many people and circumstances are incredibly improved and brought near to God!
These good fruits of pain don’t come automatically, though. It happens all the time. People can take suffering the other way and let it harden and embitter them, which is tragic in the long run.
I think that a humbling comes to a person, when they decide to trust a good God with the suffering they are presently going through. Being forced to traverse deep prolonged pain often strips away pride as nothing else ever could do.
I’ve heard that nurses in intensive care units of hospitals or in geriatric care settings often see the contrasting sets of results of adversity clearly in people’s mien and behaviors under pressure. They observe that the sets of characteristics each of the paths produce, respectively, diverge markedly one from the other. Which do you want to be when you are extremely old or under great stress – crusty bitter hardness or grace and beauty personified?
C.S. Lewis talked a lot about the concept of “CHOOSING OUR PATH”, every minute of every day of our lives, in little things and great things, which are often the little things. He talked about how even tiny decisions fed into bigger ones and everything together, over years, created the end results of and in our lives. The characteristics that we sometimes exhibit toward the ends of our lives have over the process of the years become integral parts of who we are, either lovely and shining, deep and refined, or………. ugly and sad. Few of us are going to avoid all, even most, suffering for our whole lives. How are we going to choose to receive it when it comes?
I think there is another MAJOR aspect of this whole thing that’s DIFFERENT for a Christian believer than for any other person on the planet. It’s that, to the believer, NOT ONLY can she take comfort in the fact that her suffering will surely make her a better person in the long run and that she’ll be empowered to help others because of the suffering she went through, but – AND THIS IS VITAL – the whole Bible teaches strongly and consistently that God himself in the person of Jesus Christ walks with her every single second in the fiery furnace of adversity and suffering! He suffered the full weight of the due penalty of all the suffering of the universe (and the deepest, most basic definition of suffering would be, I believe, separation/rebellion from/against GOD with, of course, all the far-reaching results that come from that) so that He could be with us and walk with us forever, into eternity. We are not alone in our suffering. Not only are we intimately accompanied through it, but the ONE who accompanies us is GOD OF THE UNIVERSE, perfect in power, love, weightiness and value (glory) – WHO gave HIS ALL for me because, simply, HE loves me.
When He talks of their losing their selves, He only means abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever.
― C.S. Lewis,
“Christianity teaches that, contra fatalism, suffering is overwhelming; contra Buddhism, suffering is real, contra karma, suffering is often unfair; but contra secularism, suffering is meaningful. There is a purpose to it, and if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine.” – Tim Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, p.30.
on humility…in suffering.
“One way to bear necessary pain is to be humble. If we are humble, we will be willing to allow something uncomfortable to happen to us if it’s the right thing to do. This is because part of being humble means not perceiving ourselves to have rights or privileges we do not possess. We certainly do not have to pretend to enjoy the pain, and we should bring others into our experience so they can comfort us in it. But humility is a necessary character trait for bearing pain.”