Suffering, Hurting, Helping
Suffering: Popular Notions
There are different kinds of suffering. Suffering you bring on yourself for sinning: going to prison after stealing. Suffering dealt to you that you could not avoid: illness, stressful situations, people harming you, etc. And suffering that you allow to happen to you by living a Christian lifestyle: persecution.
The viewpoints of people presented here will deal mostly with suffering dealt to you that you could not avoid. But then the Scriptures will bring us back to suffering that you allow to happen to you by living a Christian lifestyle.
This article is a collection of thoughts about and reactions to suffering. It is my hope that this will bring you some comfort through a better understanding of what suffering means to other people. However, this article will not take into consideration all aspects of suffering, nor will it provide a definitive analysis of the subject.
Suffering: Popular Notions
“Suffering was the only thing that made me feel I was alive. Thought that’s just how much it cost to survive in this world.” Those lines are from Carly Simon’s song “Haven’t Got Time for The Pain”. Tragically, many people think that suffering is the only thing that can give their lives meaning or purpose. And even if suffering weren’t actually necessary, joy certainly isn’t anything that could be hoped for. Not now. Not ever.
People rationalize. I had to suffer because now I can use the experience to blah blah blah... However, you cannot give your life meaning, or argue its worth or validity, by saying you had to suffer in order to blah blah blah...
Someone may tell you that you suffer because your faith is weak, like you are an inferior Christian who cannot overcome. Then you later have the defense, "See! I wasn't weak! I needed to suffer to start this ministry! I am not inferior!"
We do not suffer because we are good little martyrs, as though we are in God's classroom and we clean the chalk erasers to be a kiss up. If we have worth, it is because Christ loved us enough to die on the cross for us. It is because, through grace, we are made whole, clean, and new.
Many times when we seek attention in the present, it is to try to prove we deserved recognition in the past. Perhaps we wish to duplicate a disaster to designate a need large enough for the world to acknowledge our commitment to the “cause”. Like playing disaster poker. “I’ll see you one upheaval. And raise you two meltdowns.” I see no winners in that game.
We use past or present suffering as “feeble fuel”, something we claim gives our engines spark, but in reality, only serves to verify how feeble our faith in God really is. It is how we prove to others that God loves us and has a use for us. It is a way for us to show our contribution to God’s Kingdom. Even when we aren’t really lifting a spiritual finger to fight any battle but our own internal war that rages unnoticed and unattended to by others.
Peace, strength, calmness, serenity. I think the bottom line for religious buzzwords is trusting in Jesus that He knows best and you will be provided for. We don't have to try to even the score. Just take life for what it's worth. (And make it a little better when possible.) Yes, we need to be zealous. But we certainly aren't able to fix everything, and aren't supposed to try to fix everything.
We overcomplicate matters. There are basic activities God wants in our lives. These include people having personal lives, friends, and families. And these also include people having tasks that God assigns to them. Pretty straight forward, right? Peace is going to bed at night knowing we have fellowshipped with people during the day and we have worked on our tasks for the day.
So now, as you will discover, when we forget the suffering that happens to us, we are not caught up in a frenzy of trying to play "catch up" to restore and accumulate all that we think we may have been cheated out of through the years. And if the anguish no longer exists (or at least has little hold on us), then there is nothing to be grasped at, sought after, or reclaimed. This keeps our godly needs in proper perspective. Something we don't want to occur (or exist) may still happen now, but it does not become the focal point for our lives -- past, present, or future.
Yes, God can take a bad situation and salvage something from it to be used for His glory. However, too often, those bad situations serve no purpose other than to torture us into thinking we can never hope to find any joy. Joy. What extinguishes our joy? What can take it away from us?
If we are hurting, we are hurting because someone stepped on us.
If we are hurting, we are hurting because we stepped on ourselves.
If we are hurting, we are hurting because someone failed to extend some kindness to us.
If we are hurting, we are hurting because we failed to accept some kindness.
Excuse me. Are we talking about suffering? Or are we talking about feelings? Hurt can be a verb, but that is not how we are referring to it here. Here, if ”you are hurting” is the noun hurt. This is a feeling, like an ache or pain to which we respond. If “you are suffering” is a verb or action – you are enduring or tolerating something or a situation (which might possibly be a hurt).
So, are you truly suffering continuously though a difficult time? Or have you just had your feelings hurt over something of limited scope?
Imagine for a moment that I see you suffering. I love you. (I mean that.) I want to ease your suffering as much as I can. I would even like to eliminate the cause of your suffering. Wait a minute though. You are suffering because God wants you to suffer, like He has a purpose for your pain. If I try to ease your suffering, does that make me a bad person because I am going against God’s will? Should I allow you to suffer to make God happy? How can I ever know the difference between God wanting me to help you versus just letting you suffer? And how could it be possible for me to know which people to help?
Do we have an obligation to erase everyone else’s worries and pains? Absolutely not! Who could stand up under such a burden? Yet, there is a load we are called to carry – both for ourselves and for our fellow man.
Yikes! My head is spinning! What a lot of food for thought, but this is just what man has conjured in his mind in his response to suffering. I think we have listened to man enough. Let’s hear from God!
"He said to her, 'Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.'" (Mark 5:34 NIV)
Faith plays an extremely important role in dealing with suffering. Faith is needed to accept suffering, to cope with it, and to believe that God will deliver you from this and all suffering, in His time, according to His purpose.
Sinners and saints both suffer. Healing can be used to convince nonbelievers of God’s authority in all situations. And remember, not everyone is delivered from suffering, not even Paul.
The prime example of suffering in the Old Testament is Job, through his personal sufferings. But when looking through the New Testament, so many of the passages discuss suffering for Jesus. This is from persecution for not backing down on your statement to the world that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
I was looking for examples to support my discussion of how we suffer today, because suffering is something that happens to all of us, some more than others. But as I read what the early Christian went through for their faith, I became ashamed for whining about our suffering that seems so trivial in comparison to suffering from persecution.
But since we have come this far, let’s go ahead and review some of the passages that stood out to me.
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:1-8 NIV)
From our own perspective, this passage reinforces the concept that suffering can be part of a sequence to build our character. Suffering can have purpose. It can prepare us for things to come in our lives. It can prepare us for a ministry or for leadership. But it can also be random. Since we live in a fallen world, suffering just comes with the territory. So while we may be able to avoid or alleviate some suffering, perhaps more emphasis needs to be placed on accepting the inescapable as part of God’s plan for dealing with a fallen world. Through all this, hope is evident in any situation.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-7 NIV)
This passage examines suffering in terms of how our suffering enables us to properly interact with other people as they suffer, or have suffered. From our own perspective, we suffer and are comforted. That suffering/comforting process creates a patient endurance. Then from the perspective of others, having endured suffering ourselves, we can share in their suffering and provide comfort to them. And we can share with them patient endurance. Whatever we receive, the good and the bad, allows us to pass something on to the next person. Through all this, hope is evident in any situation. This is true both from our own perspective and from the perspective of others.
We see a patient endurance, not all this hype about fixing things and saying one thing is because of this or that, just to justify our existence. God is indeed in control of all situations, no matter how bad they appear at the time. We may feel led to try to calm feelings, and possibly alleviate suffering. However, we are called more to under gird those suffering to support them throughout their period of suffering.
The focus is not on trading one set of circumstances for another. The focus is not on a magic bullet to cure all ills. The focus goes straight to the heart of the matter: how to get through where you are now, without becoming bitter or complaining or falling away.
Whether or not you can find something to legitimize your suffering is irrelevant. What is important is that you graciously accept what God puts before you without second-guessing His authority and His mode of operation.
Suffering can create a “why me” kind of season, which can be very productive as we begin to ask questions and ponder the many possible responses to those questions. Of course, we don’t have all the answers ourselves. So we are put in the position where we must go to extremes in our search for truth and understanding.
What extremes am I talking about? I mean we have to roll up our sleeves and dig. Dig deep into our soul to see what is there and compare what we find to our personal studies of the Bible. Sometimes we even have to admit that we don’t know everything and have to ask others for help, assistance, or guidance. My, my. What a humbling experience. And the really outrageous move: we have to talk to God as the real person that He is and interact with Him through His Spirit and the Word. And once we find that sweet communion, we ask ourselves, “Why didn’t I think of this before?”
This questioning season is mostly internal. As we learn to accept the situations that God places us in, we are filled with a joy and a sense of peace. Little by little, we begin to think less and less about our own problems, and begin the journey to helping others who are suffering, or have suffered in the past. We move from our own little world (internal) and begin to live in a great, big world (external) filled with other people and marvelous new adventures. And that internal search may prepare us for something in our lives, or in the lives of those brought into our paths.
If you find yourself in a ministry to help people who have suffered through the same things you have suffered through – you are not in that ministry because you can "relate" to what those people are going through (or went through). You are in that ministry because you are an overcomer. Being an overcomer does not mean a person found an escape or an easy way out. Being an overcomer means being able to find joy in all situations through patient endurance.
Suffering people don't need another person to wallow in the mud with them. They need to see someone who has been pulled from the mud, cleaned up, and made whole. You can’t look back and throw yourself back into the mud so you can “relate”. You have to keep your eyes straight ahead on Christ. Stop trying to relate and start being a credible witness and example. This temptation to wallow in feelings (by trying to relate) instead of sharing in another person’s suffering (and provide comfort) is what holds many ministries back.
Do you ever think about trying to help someone reclaim or rediscover his life after he has faced adversity? If you meet someone who has been brutalized by life (maybe everyone could qualify), resist your first inclination to perform open-heart surgery to fix him. Instead of trying to correct what was done to him, try to give back to him what was stolen from him. Afford him the luxury of being who God is leading him to be, not who the world is driving him away from being.
Be what he needs most -- simply a friend who will accept him as he fumbles his way back to finding his true identity. Don't treat him like he is broken or damaged goods, just provide enthusiastic encouragement, and share his excitement as he masters each new challenge.
If we fail to extend a hand of friendship to someone who is suffering, then who has inflicted more pain upon him? The original villains who caused him to suffer? Or those who stand back and do nothing to help him overcome his suffering?
"So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good." (1 Peter 4:19 NIV)
What should be our response to suffering? Continue to do good.
"Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 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." (1 Peter 5:6-10 NIV)
What should be our response to suffering? Stand firm and resist evil. You are not alone in your suffering. Christ suffered, as do people all over the world. You all share this common bond of suffering, as well as the same promise given to all followers: you will all be restored and made strong when your suffering ceases. That is a promise, that it will cease, and it will be replaced with triumphant rejoicing.
"His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name." (Acts 5:40-41 NIV)
What should be our response to suffering? Look at suffering as an opportunity to make a change in other people’s life. Let them know what you have experienced in discovering salvation. The same salvation that is available to them. There is risk is sharing that message. Be prepared to take that risk.
"But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps." (1 Peter 2:20-21 NIV)
What should be our response to suffering? Do not be surprised. You are following in Christ’s footsteps.
"But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. 'Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.'" (1 Peter 3:14 NIV)
What should be our response to suffering? Do not be afraid of what evildoers fear. Do not be frightened of the chains that no longer hold you captive.
"It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil." (1 Peter 3:17 NIV)
What should be our response to suffering? Remember there are those who suffer from their own foolishness. They suffer for denying God’s will. You are suffering for accepting that God has purpose in all things.
"However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name." (1 Peter 4:16 NIV)
What should be our response to suffering? Do not be ashamed. You are not suffering because you are inferior or did something wrong. Thank God that you belong to Him.
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