Will suffering bring us closer to God or turn us against God?
Suffering consists of two main events:
(1) the cause—–Why am I suffering? Who did it?—–and
(2) our response.
By instinct, most of us want to figure out the cause of our pain before we decide how to respond. Our first thought when adversity strikes is probably: ”Why Lord?” “Why me?” “Am I being punished?” “What have I done wrong?” Asking God the “why” He has allowed pain, suffering or tragedy to touch our lives is a natural human reaction. We don’t ask once or twice and stop. We keep on asking Him. The reasons for adversity are as vast and different as the people who are touched by suffering. Sometimes God has to prepare our hearts to accept His purpose for allowing adversity. On the other hand, there are things God never reveals to us. But, if we are too focused and obsessed with questions about the cause, about which we have no control, we are more likely to end up being bitter and turn away from God.
Ultimately, how we respond, in which we have big control, to suffering will make us Better or Bitter. Now that it has happened, what should our response be? If we concentrate only on “I and myself” we will wallow in self-pity and tend to become Bitter. We will find the going heavy and tough. But, if we turn to Jesus and believe that He will help us to turn it round, it is more likely that it will make us Better.
One of the ways, in which we can direct our mind away from “I, myself and my needs” and to focus on Jesus and to strive to consider the needs of others, is to pray more. Also, when we share our suffering with the innocent suffering of Jesus we will find the going much easier and lighter. This is just like the sharing of our suffering with a sympathetic support group as there is a mutual desire to lighten each other’s load.
Suffering can be an opportunity for us human to develop virtues such as love in the face of adversity, inner strength in the face of turmoil, courage in the throes of pain and hope in face of despair. The way we response to suffering will determine whether life’s most painful experiences bring bitterness, resentment and despair or become sources of blessing and hope, which tends to make us better and grateful people.
But, will Jesus turn our suffering, pain, adversity or hardship round for our good? Jesus is the compassionate God who has become a human being so that we can approach Him for help in our suffering with no fear. When we turn to Jesus, Jesus promises that He will help us and He will work WITH us to turn the suffering and pain round for our good. The external circumstances (the pain, the suffering, the hardship or the adversity) may not change BUT our internal attitude and respond to them will certainly change. As Christians, we are all challenged to discover the element of good in our suffering in order to promote our spiritual growth and to build our character. With our finite mind, we may not be able to see what possible “good” could ever come out from our suffering. But in His infinite wisdom, God has promised to take “all things” including suffering, abuses, evil things, and turn them round for good as “in all things God works for good with those who love Him.” (Romans 8:28 TEV) God also promises all believers that He is able to turn our sufferings over for good in our lives.
Each and every one of us needs different “good”. To discover our good, we need to constantly ask ourselves—What is the seed of equivalent good in our suffering? What is the seed of equivalent benefit in our adversity? It is for us to seek out and work on the “good” or benefit that will help us to grow spiritually. How do we, personally, discover our ”good” for ourselves? We have to change our focus from self and self-pity: “I and my suffering” to trusting Jesus and to considering others more. When we do that and concentrate to do that fervently, we will slowly, with prayers and God’s help, discover for ourselves our “good”. Our “good” may be:
Not easily provoked, etc
However, does God punish us with or bring us pain, adversity, trials or suffering? No, as St James says, “If we are tempted by such trials, we must not say, ’This temptation comes from God.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself tempts no one.” (James 1:13 TEV) God does not will that we suffer, just as He did not will that Adam and Eve sin. But since they sinned and we inherit the weaknesses that are a result of that sin, we do and always will have something to endure. But we need to constantly remind ourselves that,“All that is good, all that is perfect, is given us from above; it comes down from the Father of all light; with Him there is no such thing as alteration, no shadow caused by change.”(James 1:17 NJB) Jesus says, “As bad as you are, you know how to give good things to your children. How much more, then, will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:11 TEV)Jesus tells us that God always wants to put His arms around us, to comfort and protect us “just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings,”(Luke 13:34 TEV). So we cannot say that God punishes us with suffering in the hope of producing something good in us, but we can safely say that God can bring good out of even the worst circumstances.