Why Do We Suffer?
- Kelly Needham kellyneedham.com
- 2017 2 Jan
As[Jesus passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” John 9:1-2
Suffering produces an insatiable desire to blame. Surely there must be some reason why this poor man must suffer all his life without sight. We hunger and thirst for some impetus for it all. We long to know the reason behind why we suffer.
Why are we so bent on finding fault? Partly because we hope to prevent future suffering, like avoiding spicy food because it once gave you heartburn. Partly because if the sufferer is to blame, we can accept the hardship as a legitimate recompense to sin: “She deserved that,” or “I had it coming.” If someone else is to blame, we at least have someone to take our anger out on. But mostly, we hunt for a cause of suffering because the lack of one is too painful and too terrifying a reality. To think that hardship happens for no reason is too difficult to face.
So how does Jesus answer the disciples inquiry about the cause of the blind man’s life of suffering? Was it his sin? Did his parents sin?
Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” John 9:3 Jesus doesn’t tell us of a world of needless suffering. There is a reason, but it is one that we have had no category for at all: suffering for the sake of the glory of God.
Honestly, at first glance, this reason doesn’t appear to be any easier of an option. This man suffered for years of his life, and for what? So that for this one moment Jesus could be glorified in front of the eyes of many through restoring his sight? Yes.
Yes. This is why he suffered. That Jesus might be glorified through him.
The Longsuffering of Delays
Today it has been exactly 5 weeks since we heard that a judge in India approved our adoption case and legally pronounced us the parents to a precious little boy. That much awaited news is on the heels of 4 years of paperwork, thousands of dollars, and one delay and hiccup after another. So in a way, it doesn’t surprise me that what should have taken the standard “3-4 weeks” is now well past that. Waiting seems to be the Lord’s chosen pasture for us right now.
Some days, I struggle to believe that I will ever hold him in my arms. The pull toward cynicism and hopelessness is very similar to what I experienced after my 3rd miscarriage. Three lives I had believed God to bring to fruition. Three times no. Hope unfulfilled sickens the heart and my sickly heart struggled to believe I would ever see a pregnancy to 40 weeks. But regardless of how I felt about it, God, in His grace, eventually gave me two daughters to raise.
Yet here I sit next to an empty crib again, afraid to hope. Afraid to pray. Afraid to ask God for what I really want for fear He will again say no, as He has so many times throughout this adoption journey.
Just like the disciples, my mind hunts for a reason. Who is to blame? I need a scapegoat, I need something to be mad at. Some reason for why I have to watch this precious child grow up through occasional photos above my kitchen sink. Why, God, must you make us wait like this?!
“So that the works of God might be displayed.”
Like a quiet whisper, hardly noticeable, yet persistent, this answer surfaces. We are sequestered in this waiting room so that God might glorify Himself through us, through our son, through it all. One question remains: will I submit myself to Him? I remember why we suffer and I look up.
Waiting in the Suffering
It’s easy to make these truths sound beautiful and lovely in words, and I’d be lying to say that wasn’t partly my goal. Yes I do hope the ways of the Lord, especially the difficult and mysterious ways, are made more attractive to you by what you read. But I would be remiss not to also highlight how arduous they are in experience.
Nothing is enjoyable about watching every other person in the room be called. Each time the door swings open to call another name out of waiting, there is a glimmer of hope: is it me? Is it my turn? And time after time, the answer is no. Another family comes home with their child, another friend goes into labor, another court moves faster. Children are received all around me and my arms are still aching to hold the boy they say is now mine.
Being singled out to wait hardly seems like living in the favor of God. But, in faith, I believe that is my current address: living in the kind, purposeful, and direct blessing of God My Father. He has chosen to withhold what I have asked for so that He might be glorified. How can I not accept the gracious invitation to be His chosen canvas on which to paint His glories? Oh God may you grant me the grace to respond with servitude as Mary did: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
The Gift in Suffering
But there is a still a sweeter gift prepared for those who suffer; a priceless pearl beneath the tumultuous waves of grief and unfulfilled longings: a personal encounter with Jesus.
Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. John 9:6-7
The personal touch of Jesus came to one specific person that day. It wasn’t the man with the best theology, the generous philanthropist, or even the high priest. It was the man born blind. A lifetime of handicapped begging prepared him to be the recipient of the very touch of God.
For those convinced they see just fine on their own (in other words, self-sufficient and religious rule-followers like me), the process toward knowing God must first begin with blindness. At the end of this chapter we see Jesus explain this principle:
Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them. “If you were blind, you would have no guilt, but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.” John 9:39-41
To be given new sight in His presence first demands we recognize our present state of darkness. Herein lies the reason God’s affectionate pursuit of us is often marked with suffering: because He must expose the darkness of our hearts. And the removal of other loves and other refuges hurts. Yet this must happen to prime our hearts to see Him and know Him.
This waiting room is exposing me, shining a harsh and relentless light on the parts of my heart that refuse to cling to God. And yet this waiting room is inviting me into new depths of relationship with God, My Joy & Everlasting Delight. The question remains, will I accept where I am as a gift from the hand of My Father? Will I submit to His perfect will for me? Will I see that His “no” is an offer of Himself? By His unending mercy alone, I can only hope my answer will be and will remain yes.
This article originally appeared on KellyNeedham.com. Used with permission.
Kelly Needham hopes to persuade as many people as possible that nothing compares to simply knowing Jesus. She is married to Christian singer/songwriter, Jimmy Needham, whose ministry of sharing the gospel through song takes him all over the world. After spending many years traveling with her husband as his road manager and violinist, Kelly came off the road to be a full-time mom to their two young daughters.
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