October 18, 2011
Is Suffering Inevitable?
For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.
1 Peter 3:17, NAS
Suffering. It's not standard daily devotional fare, because let's face it, usually we want to begin or end our day being uplifted, or even better, lifting up God, rather than focusing on our pains and problems.
But there's the rub... we all have pains and problems. Christian and non-Christian. Lifelong disciple and baby believer. Red and yellow, black and white. Everyone, from the moment he or she was born, has struggled, tried, failed, hurt, sinned, misunderstood, and reacted. Humanity shares a true brotherhood over suffering, one that we might understand a lot better if suffering weren't also so relative. By which I mean, one person's issues may sound simple, easy-to-solve, even petty to another. "That's nothing compared to what I've had to endure!"
But the fact is, your sorrows and difficulties are real to you. It's one reason why I'm no fan of when people say a certain place or time in their lives isn't "the real world," as if the spot they are currently tucked away at is immune from any degree of difficulty.
Suffering is very real, and there's certainly no reason any Christian would expect life to be otherwise. We purport to follow a "Suffering Savior." His stripes have healed us, and wow do we seem to feel them sometimes, which is as it should be, as we deserved them instead of Him. If we agree that no person but one - no matter where they lived or how easy or hard they had it - has escaped sin's corruption, then how much more must we agree that truly NO person has escaped suffering?
Look at what Peter suggests in today's verse: you can suffer for doing good, or you can suffer for doing bad. By extension, some of the problems in your life may be a result of your own rebellion, while other hurts may naturally result from walking so closely with Christ that you ache at the injustice and hardship around you, with the world despising and persecuting you.
In the classic allegory Hinds' Feet on High Places, Much-Afraid journeys with companions named Sorrow and Suffering, and these two assist her in her climb up the Injury Precipice, which is a part of her transformation into "Grace and Glory."
The same is true for you. Your sufferings have informed you, educated you, helped you along in your journey. You may despise them, but they are yours. And they will be with you whether you are doing right, or not. Of course, the nature of them will be quite different.
There may be one way, though, to avoid suffering. There's a third option, left out here by Peter, but not left out by John in the Revelation. It's the lukewarm response to life, the do-nothing approach. This is the approach that cocoons itself off from life and all of its pain. And make no mistake, "Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something," says that famous theologian the Man in Black in The Princess Bride.
You may not feel anything from inside a cocoon; in fact, it may be an abundance of pain and suffering that forced you in there. But remember, no creature that cocoons itself is intended to stay locked up forever. The point is to be rested, healed, matured, transformed. To become more beautiful, useful. Even the emerging process itself carries a degree of struggle, but one that, if the insect did not go through itself, would leave it too weak to fly.
So be lifted up in your suffering today.
It is a companion.
It is designed to transform you.
It gives you a share in the inheritance of Christ and the brotherhood of humanity.
And it gives you empathy, which gives you every excuse for ministry.
Intersecting Faith & Life:
Make it your goal to partake, as much as possible, only of the brand of suffering that comes from doing what is right according to God's Word.