Is there a Purpose in Suffering?

I received word recently that a high school friend had committed suicide. It saddens me to know that his life seemed so hopeless.  Apparently he’s not the only one who has suffered recently to the point of despair. Evidently, suicide rates are on the rise. According to an article written in April 2016 by Sabrina Tavernisein which was published in the New York Times, “Suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years…” In the same article, Professor Julie Phillips, of Rutgers pointed out that many are ,”turning to self-destructive means of dealing with their despair”. 

We live in an age where anything is possible. The world has never been smaller, nor the things we want easier to obtain. With a touch of a button we can check the status of our bank account, pay bills, buy movie tickets, and chat with friends. In a few hours we can travel across the country and in a bit more time we can be around the globe. With the slide of a card nearly anything we desire can be ours. Yet with all this affluence and convenience, many are overwhelmed to the point of despair. 
In her book, Praying the names of Jesus, Ann Spangler summed up our current delima, “It’s so easy to stuff ourselves with the world’s cheap bread—with money, success, comfort, and pleasure—that we take the edge off our spiritual hunger. We fail to realize the dangers of living in an affluent, consumer-driven society in which we can be consumed by the things we desire. So many of us are like sponges, soaking up the world’s good things with no space left for God.”
We have seen it happen countless times, infact some of us are even part of the demographic. Most people will not turn to God unless there is no other option. Even at wits end, we will try to satisfy ourselves with all other possible solutions. We will try almost anything rather than stoop to the humiliation of accepting Jesus. But God does not intend for despair and suffering to end in premature death. Instead, suffering should lead us to the only one who can help us find hope through our difficulty. Suffering should lead us to Jesus. 
Hardship and suffering produce a unique climate where people who otherwise are uninterested in God, suddenly see Him as a viable solution to their trouble. In difficult times the barriers between us and Jesus can be broken down so that we can draw near Him. Through suffering our eyes and hearts can be opened toward Jesus. The Bible says that “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9 
God does not want our lives to end in despair. In all times, especially during suffering He waits patiently, longing for us to turn to him…desiring that we would choose Him over worthless options. Suffering can provide a unique opportunity for people to realize their need for God. In the midst of despair, we can reach out to God, who, desiring that we know Him, is patiently waiting for us.  

The Sufferings of Jesus: An Example to Believers. 

Looking at her lifeless body, I was unprepared for the affliction that had come upon me. Like many others, I falsely believed that being a Christian would protect me from this type of pain and suffering. My grasp of God’s goodness was shallow and skewed to fit within my finite capacity for understanding. I failed to realize how intricately woven suffering is into the fabric of life.
I had completely disregarded the fact that suffering is common to man and that we are not the only ones who suffer. Christ also suffered! Imagine the ridicule he must have faced. The illegitimate son of a teenage girl, shunned by His brothers, rejected by His own people, the Jews, and in the end even those closest to him deserted him. He died a criminals death, crucified on a Roman cross, and buried in a borrowed tomb. Jesus knows what it’s like to suffer. 


Because He is no stranger to suffering, Jesus is an example to believers who also suffer. Sometimes it can be a difficult pill to swallow, but God often uses suffering to bring about goodness. In fact, Jesus himself suffered inorder that we might have eternal life. Hebrews tells us that for our benefit, Jesus joyously endured the cross. (Hebrews 12:2) 
BibleGateway is an excellent resource of scripture references on the sufferings of Christ. It states, “Jesus Christ’s life was characterised by suffering, though the worst experiences were reserved for his final days. His sufferings are both redemptive and an example to believers.”
As believers, the Bible tells us that we should expect suffering. “Do not be surprised when you face trials of various kinds.” (1 Peter 4:3) And Paul said, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”(2 Timothy 3:12) In fact, the Bible is full of scripture encouraging us to “share in the sufferings of Christ”. (2 Corinthians 2:5)
Christ suffered! Looking to Him as our example, we must not think that Christians are immune to suffering. Instead we should be prepared for the fiery trials that come our way, Looking to Jesus as we endure and count it all joy. (James 1:2-4)

Why do bad things happen to “good” people?

When Trinity was born she was picture perfect. But about an hour later our world was turned upside down. It was around midnight when the nurse burst into our room with those dreaded words, “There’s something wrong with your daughter!” The nurse left as quickly as she had entered, leaving us frightened and bewildered. It took three days for the doctors to determine what was wrong with Trinity and at four days old Trinity had major abdominal surgery. Fortunately the pediatric surgeon knew how to fix the problem and Trinity was quickly on the mend. But our healing took much longer than expected. The suffering we endured in those two weeks following her birth left us confused and emotionally scared. 

Although sometimes suffering is a result of poor choices, other times people are allowed to suffer for no aparent reason. I believe if we are to understand this phenomenon we must grasp perspective. There is a vast difference between God’s perspective and our perspective. Oft times we interpret suffering in a negative light. We see it as something bad or a punishment. But God uses suffering in our lives to mold and strengthen us. Through suffering we draw close to God and are better equipped for His service. Sometimes he even uses our suffering to touch the lives of others. Oswald Chambers suggests, “If you are going to be used by God, He will take you through a number of experiences that are not meant for you personally at all. They are designed to make you useful in His hands, and to enable you to understand what takes place in the lives of others.”
 The Bible is clear that as believers we will suffer. God uses suffering to build character and stability in our lives. In the book of Romans, we are told that suffering produces endurance. In turn, endurance leads to both character and hope. (Romans 5:3-5) The book of James instructs us to “count it all joy when we face trails of various kinds”, because walking through trials produces steadfastness. (James 1:2-4) In otherwords, when we experience difficulties (i.e.suffering) we become more committed, faithful and steady. Peter goes on to say that if we should suffer for righteousness’ sake, we will be blessed. (1 Peter 3:14) 
God’s perspective on suffering is much different than ours. He does not intend it as a punishment, but as a natural part of life. Suffering is used by God to help us mature and draw closer to Him. 


If God is Good, Then Why Does He Allow Bad Things to Happen?

As a kid I loved to play with Play Dough! I liked to squish the dough between my fingers, mold and create things. I could literally play for hours. I had molds for food and one of those presses that would let you make the different shaped spaghetti ropes. What fun I had!
Unfortunately there is a problem with Play Dough. It can be messy. No matter how careful you are when playing with it, inevitably there are those tiny pieces which stray getting ground into the carpet or tile. 
As a parent and teacher, I always hated for the kids to play with Play Dough. I would watch as the mess and stray pieces grew larger and larger, spilling over the sides of the table onto the furniture and floor, all the while knowing what effort it would take to clean. It took all within me to not want to micro manage or just outright ban Play Dough. 
This reminds me of another subject which can also be messy. How does a loving God allow bad things to happen? It does seem strange that if God is love, how he would allow horrible things to happen, or how he would allow all the suffering that is so prevalent in the world. Without getting to complicated, I would like to propose an answer that can be summed up in two thoughts: Freedom and patience. 
Now I bet you are wondering what Play Dough has to do with all of this? Well… within the heart of man, God has placed something known as conscience. Conscience is what makes mankind different from robots. It’s what allows us the freedom to choose right from wrong, good from bad. In giving us this freedom, God takes the risk that not everyone will choose wisely. Just like when my kids are given the freedom to play with Play Dough, I know that they will do both good and bad things with it. They will build, mold and create while often making a terrible mess at the same time. (Then there are some children who you know from before even taking the Play Dough off of the shelf that they will do absolutely nothing constructive with it, but instead make a mess of gigantic proportions.) In humanity, there will be both those who use their freedom to do great things and others who make a total mess.
A second reason that God allows bad things to happen has to do with patience. God is patient. The Bible tells us that God is patience because he does not want anyone to perish. (2 Peter 3:9) Now perish is an interesting choice of words because it has a wide range of meanings. A quick google search reveals that it can mean to “suffer death, typically in a violent, sudden, or untimely way or also, suffer complete ruin or destruction.” God does not want his creation to perish, so he patiently waits for us to turn to him. 
So bad things happen, not because God does not care, but rather because he chooses to give us freedom, rather than micromanage the world. He patiently looks on, all the while hoping for the best from creation and desiring that we would do great things with the freedom he has given us. 


New Year Resolutions 

“Satan doesn’t walk around with a pitchfork but instead disguises himself as everything you have ever wanted.” I ran across this quote in my notes this morning. I’m not sure where it came from, I doubt it was original to me. 
As we enter a new year, beware of things in your life that numb you and distract you from God’s best. Anything that you spend more time and effort seeking, than God, will become an idol in your life. So as you make New Year Resolutions and annual goals, remember to set apart TIME to nourish your soul. God does not want our left overs and He does not want to be second best. Anything that captures our time and attention can easily take the place of God in our lives. If we desire to be Godly, we must pursue Godliness. Just as someone who desires to get into shape physically must exercise and diet, those of us who desire to get into shape spiritually must eat a steady diet of God’s Word, restrain from mental junk food and exercise Godly habits.  
For those of us in Christian service, God does not want to be second to our service for Him. Ministering to others and working “for” Him are not substitutes for spending time in His presence, learning from His Word and improving our relationship with Him. 
As we begin a new year, let us choose to spend our time seeking God rather than earthly pleasures. Instead of spending our time, efforts and money on things which distract us from The Lord or only serve to make us numb to Him, let us run toward Him. Choosing to actively pursue a closer and healthy relationship with our Creator is one New Year’s Resolution we will never regret.