How Do We Handle Suffering?
I have a confession to make. I never watch the news on TV. And I rarely read news articles.
Instead, I rely on my husband to share news that I need to know. And I follow friends whom I admire, friends who follow the news and share articles via twitter or facebook. And if something catches my attention, I will read it.
But to be saturated by bad news is not in any way healthy for me. I have a tendency to feel things deeply and I struggle when I feel like there is no solution. On the flip side, I believe it is unwise to hide under a rock, to be unaware of the pain in this world. That is not what God desires for his people either.
Suffering is a reality of life. So this question comes to mind~ how do we handle suffering? Or maybe asked a different way~ how do we make sense of suffering?
When terrible tragedies occur (like what is happening right now in Iraq), I ask these questions again. And my default is always the Word of God. I have found that the only way to make sense of anything is to seek out truth in scripture.
As I prepared to lead my women’s Bible study this week, these questions of suffering were on my mind. Our group has been working its way through 1 Thessalonians and as we jumped into the 3rd chapter of this short (and often overlooked!) book, I was struck by Paul’s statement in verse 5- “I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been useless.”
And it challenged my thinking. How often am I tempted to forget or doubt God’s plan when I see suffering? Or when I experience it myself?
But Timothy was able to confirm that Paul’s work among the Thessalonians had not been in vain. According to verse 8 of chapter 3, Timothy describes the Thessalonians as “standing firm” in the faith. What can we learn from them? As I studied, I was drawn to 1 Peter and in it, I discovered many truths about suffering. These are my thoughts…
How do we handle suffering?
1. Understand that we have a choice in how we respond. We can either respond in faith, trusting in God’s faithfulness OR we can rely on our own strength and fight back. Just to be clear, I absolutely believe that there are times to fight, but those times must come out of a place of trust in God and through a desire to be in His will. If we are honest with ourselves, I believe we will know the difference.
2. Understand that when we go through suffering, we are to have the perspective of hope. My heart was encouraged as I read through 1 Peter 1:3-9 and this concept of a living hope that has been given to us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith- of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire- may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (verses 6 and 7).
3. Understand that as followers of Christ, we are to respond to suffering in the same way that Christ did. So, how did Jesus respond? 1 Peter 2:21 says, “To this (suffering for doing good) you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” And then in verse 23, “When they hurled insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats.” I struggle with this one. How can we not retaliate in the face of injustice? Everything within me wants to fight back when I see suffering. Yet I know that if Jesus had retaliated instead of willingly going to the cross for my salvation (and for the salvation of all who believe), God’s will would not have been accomplished. I am learning that following Jesus will not always make sense in the moment, but I am also convinced that His plan is always best. After all, he is the Creator of all things, the Author of life, not me!
4. Understand that suffering for doing right is actually a blessing. What?!!! 1 Peter 3:14 says, “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.” And chapter 4 verse 13 says this, “But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” This verse makes me think of Romans 8:18 which says, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” If we are only living for this life and for what we can get out of it, suffering will be unbearable. But if our hope is beyond this temporary world, then we are blessed even in suffering. This life is not all there is!!!!
5. Understand that suffering allows us to grow in our trust in God. 1 Peter 4:19 says, “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” When we suffer, we want things to be made right, but when we trust in God’s faithfulness and in his plan, we are able to endure through suffering, knowing that his plan is good and perfect. The more we see God’s faithfulness at work in our lives, the more we grow in our trust in Him.
6. Understand that we are never alone in our suffering. “Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” ~ 1 Peter 5:7.
7. Understand that suffering allows us to stand firm in our faith. Our standing firm is the greatest example of God’s grace to a lost and dying world. 1 Peter 5:9 says this, “Resist him (the devil), standing firm in your faith because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” And this is where perspective comes for me. The sufferings that I endure? Well, they are nothing compared to what my brothers and sisters are facing in Iraq. I want to end their suffering! I want justice to reign down on ISIS! But then I read 1 Peter 5:10 and I am encouraged~ “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.”
Guess what? God wins. Every time. It might not happen in our timing and the way we want it, but eternal glory in Christ? Well, nobody can take that away from a follower of Christ.
This is our living hope. And it is the only way I have found to handle suffering.