The unexpected diagnosis. The disappointing test result. A good friend’s betrayal. A season of loneliness. Struggling to make ends meet.
Sometimes, suffering comes in the form of huge trials that catch us off guard. Other times, it’s felt in the day to day wearing on our souls.
Either way, suffering in this world, in one form or another, is inevitable.
It is part of living in a fallen world. It’s not something you can hope won’t happen to you, like not getting called for jury duty. You can’t avoid it if you just play your cards right, or have enough faith. It’s not a detour to get through quickly so you can get back to the real work of life.
Suffering is an essential part of the Christian life.
It is a tool for transforming us into the kind of people God designed us to be.
Hind’s Feet on High Places, by Hannah Hurnard, is an allegory about a girl named Much Afraid who is called to the High Places by the Good Shepherd.
The Good Shepherd knows the way up will be dangerous and rough. It leads through places like the Shores of Loneliness and the Valley of Loss. So Much Afraid is given two companions for the journey: Sorrow and Suffering.
When I first read that, I thought, “What? That’s ridiculous! How will it help her to have them as companions? And what’s with this winding journey? It seems so inefficient.”
During a hard season, in which my husband traveled extensively, and I struggled with health issues that left me unable to care well for our two children, I sat down one day and cried out to God, “Would you please just make this easier!”
I don’t want my journey to involve sorrow or suffering. I want a straight shot to the High Places, during which growth comes through rainbows and sunshine.
But when I look back on that time, it was a furnace of transformation for my faith. He used it to take me places in my walk with Him that nothing else had done. Sorrow and Suffering are the companions God has chosen, and they are powerful guides along the journey of faith.
When I doubt the wisdom or goodness of God’s companions, Isaiah 53:3 reminds me that Jesus is “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” In Philippians 3, Paul considers everything loss that he may know Christ and may “share in His sufferings.”
If Jesus knew sorrow and suffering, who are we to avoid it? It is part of the journey to be like Him.
In 2 Corinthians 4:7-16, Paul describes the suffering the apostles endured: afflicted, perplexed, persecuted and struck down. Yet he concludes by saying, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”
I read this and think, “I don’t want to lose heart in the midst of suffering.”
That is perhaps our greatest fear—that suffering will steal our joy and our faith. It will cause us to lose heart. But there is a way to walk with suffering as our teacher and guide if we trust that God is in it.
He is leading us to higher places. Our inner selves are being renewed in the image of our Creator. He invites us to take the hand of suffering and not just endure but embrace it.
How do we do that?
Questions for Reflection:
About the Author: Gina Butz has served with Cru for over 20 years, 13 of them in East Asia. She and her husband are currently raising two third culture kids and an imported dog in Orlando, Florida, where they serve in global leadership for Cru. She blogs about being wholehearted at Awakened and loves to connect on Twitter and Facebook.
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