Some of you reading this will know quite well what it means to suffer, many of us have come from very dark places before we came to the knowledge of God. Some of us have even known what it’s like to suffer as a Christian. As we learn who we are in Christ, life’s circumstances seem to create the opportunity to suffer quite often, really. It is a normal human experience and this is no different when you become a Christian. A topic such as this is a highly personal one because we all experience its pain, but I believe that as new creations…
if our perspective can shift, the suffering in our lives will be a much more bearable experience and even a glorious one.
As you read throughout the entire Bible you will see plenty of suffering from practically the beginning, as mankind didn’t make it through Genesis 3 until suffering entered the world through sin and death. This seems to be something we all experience for ourselves early in life as well. We all understand what it is like to feel rejected, fearful, resentful, jealous, angry and hurt. We have all experienced the suffering of being sick, of hurting ourselves or seeing our loved ones hurt. Many of us have experienced death to some degree or another – if not we all will, and even when death takes one who might have been suffering, which led to death, we are still left with a sense of emptiness and a longing for a day where there will be no more suffering. And this is where Jesus comes in for many of us, and I was no different. Reading through the gospels and seeing his mercy and compassion on hurting people, one of my favorite things he said is: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30)
Jesus is the solution for the suffering in the world as we see demonstrated through his life, but more importantly through his death and resurrection. We have experienced this hope, we have found meaning for our lives and all of our suffering in Christ – whether that is past, present or future. Theologically, we can argue that God doesn’t cause all the trouble in the world, or that he is causing us to suffer for his glory. Personally, I don’t believe he is. I believe we are experiencing this suffering because of a lack of God’s will in the world. Jesus tells us to pray “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” It seems clear that God is grieved by our suffering, so much so that he entered into it as a man and suffered the most that we might find freedom and bring about a new creation that will one day be fully established. So if Jesus came almost 2000 years ago, why are we still suffering?
We see the life of Jesus and the way he came “proclaiming the kingdom of God,” and after three years he was crucified. This was no different in the early church, and even today in many places in the world. The gospel is going forward and it will not be stopped, but whenever light is shined the darkness does not like it. In our western culture today we are blessed to be able to practice our faith, but that is obviously not so in all places of God’s world. As new creations, we get to partner with God in bringing reconciliation and restoration to this world, and that means there will be suffering as we continue to advance.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? Romans 8:22-24
And this is the main point I want to make. Like a woman giving childbirth, she groans to give birth to her child. And like us, the more we know the ways of God, it will be like a groaning within ourselves and a longing to see God’s creation fully manifested in His glory. To see all things made new and an end of suffering. I remember when I first met Jesus it was like finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, or winning the lottery and nobody wanted to share Him with me. I would tell my friends and family, “let me be your burning bush, God is real!” and still they didn’t have eyes to see. I would tell them about the awesome things I was learning, about the supernatural things going on in my life, but still no desire or change. After about a few months of this struggle, I remember hearing from Jesus when I was at a point of feeling hopeless, “how can the people I love so much and who have seen me change so clearly not believe?” and I heard Him say, “follow me and they will start to follow.”
It took many years of loving Christians pouring into me and blessing and serving me that birthed the faith in my life. It was seeing them struggle with life and “suffering well” that planted seeds in my life that made me cry out to God years after I witnessed their lives, I wanted the hope they carried. Just because we are new creations and know the Lord, doesn’t mean life doesn’t still happen. The world is still not in a place where it was created to be, but we have hope. Hope that remains -hope and an answer to the evil in the world.
When we make up our minds that we will “suffer well” for the sake of the kingdom, that isn’t resigning our life to a life of suffering, or believing that God is causing us suffering. It is a point that we see past the problem and we know that God can use all things to bring about good, but many times we have to partner with him in doing so. Peter talks about suffering in his first letter.
- 1 Peter 3:13-18 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.
- 1 Peter 4:19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.
- 1 Peter 5:10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
These verses can be intimidating to some, or make God out to be the one who is causing us suffering, but that is not the point. The point Peter is making is that we will suffer for doing good. Jesus did, the apostles did, and many of the saints in our day are continually suffering because of their dedication to following in the ways of Jesus. It is an unavoidable situation because we do not yet see all things in subjection to him and we want to. We long the day when the whole world will praise His name, and we know that by suffering for doing good it changes things. The Apostle Paul was one of the biggest thugs out to get Christians before he met Jesus and look at what happened to him. In the book of Acts, chapter 7, Stephen was preaching the truth and was stoned for it. During the execution he cried out “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” (Acts 7:60) Two chapters later Saul was radically delivered and had his name changed to Paul and he went on to write much of the N.T.
Many of us will never experience this type of persecution, but we can still bless those that persecute us. We can still love those who don’t want to love us back. We can still give up our right to be offended by those who trouble us and love the hell out of people. Doing good like this will change the world around us, and as the body of Christ this is what we suffer for.
And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore, be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Luke 6:34-36
Written by: Andrew Strobel