Don’t be knocked out by adversity or suffering
All of us suffer. All of us have adversity. All of us are hurt in one way or another and at the most inconvenient time. The point is, do we let our suffering or adversity knocks us out. We are knocked out: when we keep on complaining about life’s injustices, when we recount the unhappy events in our mind over and over again, when we become bitter, when we seek revenge, when we are imprisoned by these events. Yes, we can be knocked down by adversity or suffering, but we have to bounce back and move on. Again and again! We must never allow these events to chain us to the past. We have to develop the courage to spring up fighting again and again at life’s challenges. We can take up our cross and remain brave and still caring and thus add a fuller meaning to our life here on earth. This is a triumph of our spirit. This is real success in life.
All of us think of our suffering as unique and private. But what is most private is also most universal. People have been there and gone through the same suffering. What can we learn from them so that we are prepared? What must we plan ahead to understand? What can we do, to better prepare ourselves to handle the crisis?
I think the following advance preparations are useful:
1. Ask “What” instead of “Why”
2. Listen to what Jesus says about “Who is responsible for our suffering?”
3. Learn from Jesus’ suffering.
4. Accept the miracles at His time and in His way
5. Call ourselves to make that quantum leap in our faith.
6. Equip ourselves to help, comfort and counsel others
1. Ask “What” instead of “Why”
When adversity or suffering strikes, it consists of two main events:
(1) The cause–Why? and
(2) Our response.
By instinct, most of us want to figure out the cause of our pain before we decide how to respond. The first question we naturally ask is “Why?” Why God? Why me? Why now? Why is this happening to me? Why am I being punished? Why does God allow this to happen to me? Why am I having such a difficult time? We ask the “why” over and over again. We will find that we can never get a satisfactory answer from our “Why” question. In fact if we go on and not change direction we will end up being angry and bitter with God, fate, whatever.
At some point we have no choice but to change our focus and ask “What.” Now that the adversity, suffering, pain or hardship has occurred, what must I do? What can I learn from this experience? What did I learn from this experience that will help me to move forward? What are the hidden promises in this suffering? What are the buried treasured messages? What must I seek and find? What faith must I cultivate? When we refocus on the “what” of our response, we are more likely to find solutions to our problems.
All of us react to suffering as something uninvited, undesirable and unwelcome. But every suffering or pain we experience is the kind that normally comes to anyone. Pain and suffering are part and parcel of living in the world and Christians are not exempted. But, 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 response 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 promises 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 that He will never leave us nor abandon us. He says, “I will never leave you; I will never abandon you.”(Hebrew 13:5 TEV) and “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20 NKJV) “I will never turn away anyone who comes to Me” (John 6:37 TEV) We have to learn to hear with our inner ears and hearts to these comforting phases of “I will.” We can take God at His Word that He will help us, comfort us, strengthen us and support us through our adversity and suffering.
Yes, the way we respond to adversity or suffering will determine whether life’s most painful experiences bring bitterness, resentment and despair or become a source of blessing and hope, which makes us better, grateful people.
2. Listen to what Jesus says about “Who is responsible for our suffering?”
The clearest insight into this question appears in Luke chapter 13 (NJB). Jesus was asked about two “current events” that prompted much local discussion. One was an act of political oppression, in which Pilate had killed members of a religious minority, while they were offering sacrifices to God; the other, a construction accident that killed eighteen people. Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than any others, that this should have happened to them? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell, killing them all? Do you suppose that they were more guilty than all other people living in Jerusalem? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did.”(v 2-5) Jesus did not fully answer the question most in their mind—the cause of the suffering. Jesus answers from above to the questions raised from below. His answer from above is about spiritual death. Physical death should alert us to our spiritual death and unless we repent we will spiritually perish like them. When we witness death, it is a call for repentance, a call for a radical change of our hearts, a call for us to turn to God, a call for conversion and a call to be reborn from above.
Jesus does not explain, “Here’s why those two tragedies occurred.” But He makes one thing clear—they occurred not as a result of any specific wrongdoing of the victims. So no grieving relative need to stand around wondering what brought about calamities; Jesus makes it plain that the victims had done nothing unusual to deserve their fates. They were the same as other people. They were sinners but no worse than other people. But Jesus did not stop there. He uses both tragedies to point to the eternal truths relevant to everyone—“unless you repent you will all perish as they did.” Jesus implies that we “bystanders” of catastrophes have as much to learn from the events as do the victims. A tragedy should alert us to make ourselves ready in case we are the next victims. Catastrophes thus join together victims and bystanders in a call to repentance, by abruptly reminding us of the brevity of life.
But in verse 11 “there before Him was a woman who for eighteen years had been possessed by a spirit that crippled her” and Jesus healed her and declared that Satan had caused her the pain; ”this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan has held bound these eighteen years—was it not right to untie this bond on the Sabbath day?” (v 16)
Sometimes our illness could be due to our sins, as mentioned by Jesus in His healing of the paralyzed man. “Then behold, men brought on a bed a man who was paralyzed, whom they sought to bring in and lay before Him. And when they could not find how they might bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the housetop and let him down with his bed through the tiling into the midst before Jesus. When He saw their faith, He said to him, ‘Man, your sins are forgiven you.’”(Luke 5:18-20 NKJV)
But Jesus makes it absolutely clear that often our suffering has nothing to do with our sin or our parents’ sin. Jesus’ disciples asked Him when they saw a man who was blind since birth: “’Teacher, whose sin caused him to be born blind? Was it his own or his parents’ sin?’ Jesus answered, ‘His blindness has nothing to do with his sin or his parents’ sin. He is blind so that God’s power might be seen at work in him.’” (John 9:2-3 TEV) Here, Jesus teaches His disciples that suffering is no longer tied to sin and punishment. This is a very radical and new concept because all through the Old Testament there is this connection between suffering and sin! And practically all of us still keep making that connection. The enormity of our human suffering is caused not only by physical and emotional pain, but also by our deep sense of guilt attached to the suffering. Jesus radically and definitely disconnected suffering from sin and guilt. He did this in His own person. He who was without sin suffered the most and so broke the fatal connection between suffering and sin.
The best clue we have into how God feels about human pain is to look at Jesus’ response. He never gave an individual or a suffering person a speech about “accepting your lot in life,” or “taking the medicine that God has given you.” or “you must have done something to deserve this.” He seemed unusually sensitive to the groans of suffering people, and set about remedying them. And He used His supernatural powers to heal, never to punish.
3. Learn from Jesus’ suffering
Jesus learned about hardship, rejection and betrayal. When Jesus first began His ministry, the people hooted, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Jesus’ neighbors once ran Him out of town and tried to kill Him. The leaders of the day proudly announced that not one authority or religious leader believed in Him. He was rejected, lonely, tired, hungry, personally assaulted by Satan and persecuted by powerful enemies. Yet, when He met people in pain, He was deeply moved with compassion. Not once did He say, “Endure your pain! Swallow your grief!” When Jesus’ friend Lazarus died, He wept. Very often, every time He was directly asked, He healed the pain. Sometimes He broke deep-rooted customs to do so, as when He healed a woman who had a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years on the Sabbath day or when he touched outcasts, ignoring their cries of “Unclean!” And Jesus suffers pain when He has an accuser slap His face, a whip lashed across His back, and an iron spike pound through muscle, tendon, and bone. The cross was a picture of torment and suffocation to death, stretching for hours in front of a jeering crowd. The pattern of Jesus’ response should convince us that God is not a God who enjoys seeing us suffer.
Because of Jesus, God experiences, truly experiences, our human pain. Our tears become His tears. He suffers with us. He suffers for us. He shares our pain and suffering. He is our companion in suffering. We have not been left alone in our suffering. God understands our suffering and He will not allow it to be wasted. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”(Hebrews 4:15-16 NKJV) We have a high priest who, having graduated from the school of suffering, understands us, “Since He Himself is weak in many ways, He is able to be gentle with those who are ignorant and make mistakes.” (Hebrews 5:2 TEV)
Jesus elevated suffering, transformed it, gave it power, and considers the pain of each member of the human race His pain. So much so that when I alleviate the pain of my brother, or am compassionate with his life, Jesus considers this done to Him, “whenever you did this for one of the least important of these followers of Mine, you did it for Me!” (Matthew 25:40 TEV)
4. Accept the miracles At His time and in His way
We must learn to accept the fact that Jesus will work His miracles at His pace and time and in His way. The story of Lazarus (John 11:1-44 NJB) demonstrated this very clearly.
Lazarus was sick and “the sisters sent this message to Jesus, ’Lord, the man you love is ill’” (John 11:3). The implication is that they wanted Jesus to heal him. Jesus heard their prayer and delayed answering. “Yet when he heard that he was ill He stayed where He was for two more days” (John 11:6). Lazarus, Mary and Martha are the people whom Jesus loves and stay with often, still adversity happened to them. Bad things do happen even to those whom Jesus loves! Three times in this chapter we are told that Jesus loves Lazarus. (John 11:3,5,36) Why does He allow Mary and Martha or us to suffer? Sometime there is a greater purpose to suffering than for God to end our suffering. Suffering develops our faith in Him.
Why does Jesus delay? One reason for His delay is for us to come to have complete faith in Him. Jesus’ delay in answering our prayers is never due to indifference or an inability to act. His delays and His Ways can be confusing because the process God uses to accomplish His will can go against our human logic and common sense. His delay has as its purpose the development of our trust in Him and for our good.
Lazarus was dead for four days. For four days Mary and Martha were in agony and in hopeless and helpless grief over the death of their loved one, Lazarus. Why does Jesus allow such grief to the people He loves? Jesus did not enjoy in the least seeing His loved ones suffer. In fact, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). But Jesus’ focus was on the big picture and the purpose of God that would be accomplished. It took less than one day to travel to where Jesus was to inform Him that Lazarus was sick. By the time Jesus was informed Lazarus was already dead. Jesus knew that God would be glorified to a far greater extent by the resurrection of Lazarus. Jesus knew that His disciples, as well as Mary and Martha, would experience quantum leap in faith because He resurrected Lazarus.
What reasons do we need before we will develop a deep faith in Jesus? Do we believe intellectually, based on what the Bible says that God has the power to answer our prayer but lack the personal faith to believe that God will exercise it now on our behalf? Before Jesus could work His miracle, He has to challenge Martha to demonstrate her faith through sheer obedience to His command to “take away the stone” (John 11:39). Had Martha argued and not removed the stone, there would have been no miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus. What are the stones Jesus commands us to remove? Jesus commands us:
to remove the stones of doubt
to remove the stones of rage
to remove the stones of fear
to remove the stones of unforgiveness
to remove the stones of unkindness
to remove the stones of hypocrisy
to remove the stones of nagging tongue
to remove the stones of revenge
to remove the stones of envy
to remove the stones of pride
to remove the stones of iniquity
to remove the stones of jealousy
to remove the stones of selfishness
to remove the stones of self-pity,
before He will work His miracles on us. The story of Lazarus is a story of faith and the necessity of placing that faith in Jesus for the miracle to happen.
5. Suffering calls us to make that quantum leap in our faith.
No one wants suffering
No one likes suffering
No one seeks suffering
No one enjoys suffering
No one looks forward to suffering
We do not welcome suffering and pain. Neither did Jesus want suffering. He prayed, ”My Father, if it is possible, take this cup of suffering from Me! Yet not what I want, but what You want.” (Matthew 26:39 TEV) “In great anguish He prayed even more fervently; His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”(Luke 22:44 TEV) In His suffering, “An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him.”(Luke 22:43 TEV) So too, we need faith, family and friends to be ministering angels to us. We also need Jesus to strengthen us in our suffering.
When I am overtaken by sickness or adversity I must seek whatever remedies the world affords me. But, will I be tempting God’s divine providence, if I don’t do my best to find a solution? Doesn’t my best mean that I must not be lazy or apathetic or slovenly in my attempts? Thus, I must act and do whatever I can—use my intelligence, experience, consult doctors, family, friends, Internet, experts, prayers and whatever God has put within my reach—and then calmly endure and patiently await the outcome. If God sees fit to cure my sickness or to overcome my adversity I will thank Him joyfully. But if, on the other hand, He permits the sickness or the adversity to persist, I need to vigorously steel and battle myself to surrender to His will for me. Meanwhile, I must still maintain that faith and sing praises to the Lord and rejoice always in His kindness. In another word, pray fervently for the grace to act as Mother Teresa advises: “Accept whatever He gives—and give whatever He takes with a big smile.” (A Gift for God, 46) I have to believe that God will guide my life. I have to believe that joy can come amidst my suffering just as crushed grapes can produce delicious wine. I have to believe that God is preparing me to “bear much fruit” (John 15:2 TEV). Such an attitude is vital for my long term health and well being.
Suffering is God’s megaphone calling us to Him, calling us to make that quantum leap in our faith and trust in Him. For how do we know the “God of all comfort” if our faith has not been tested by the trials of suffering and pain? St Peter tells us, “Be glad about this, even though it may now be necessary for you to be sad for a while because of the many kinds of trials you suffer. Their purpose is to prove that your faith is genuine. Even gold, which can be destroyed, is tested by fire; and so your faith, which is much more precious than gold, must also be tested, so that it may endure. Then you will receive praise and glory and honor on the Day when Jesus Christ is revealed.”(1 Peter 1:6-7 TEV) Jesus reminds us that, “not one sparrow falls to the ground without your Father’s consent” and “you are worth much more than many sparrows!” (Matthew 10:29,31 TEV) We know that we are “children of God” (1 John 3:1 TEV), and that God is “always ready to help (us) in times of trouble” (Psalms 46:1 TEV), and nothing can come into our lives unless He allows it. We have to believe that with all our heart, and look about expectantly for what God is doing—in us or through us.
One reason why God allows us to have trials and adversity is for us to discover and learn for ourselves, through our own personal experience, “how very great is His power at work in us who believe.” (Ephesians 1:19 TEV)
God allows suffering as one of the ways He grabs our attention to truly and fully turn to Him. We are therefore encouraged to continue to seek His comfort, His support and His strength. We are also encouraged not to view the present situation as one, which should only be endured until relief comes. We know that in our world, we learn to mature and grow through difficult, challenging and painful experiences. So, we have to face our suffering and we have to befriend our suffering. We have to patiently live through our suffering. We have to let our suffering bear fruit in our hearts.
God allows suffering to be a means of discipline through which faith, love, patience and grace may be cultivated in our lives. When we pray and let Jesus live near our hurts, we will learn how He uses our suffering to mould and draw us closer to Him. We can be sure that God in His divine purpose desires to bring about in us the greatest good because He loves us.
The great secret in life is that suffering can become a source of new hope and new life. We know: no hardened ground can bear fruit if it is not broken up by the plough; no grain can become bread if it is not ground and baked; and no rough diamond can be transformed to its true brilliance if it is not cut and polished. So, in like manner, if our hearts are hard like stone, it will not bear fruit; but our lives can be fruitful if our hearts are opened up and softened through suffering. Our hearts are then renewed to help others.
6. Equip us to Help, Comfort and Counsel others
If we want to be used by God, if we want to be “fully qualified and equipped to do every kind of good deed” (2 Timothy 3:17 TEV), we will have to travel the road of suffering at some point in our life. For how can anyone lead others out of the jungle if he has never been there? St Paul tells us that; “God helps us in all our troubles, so that we are able to help others who have all kinds of troubles, using the same help that we ourselves have received from God. Just as we have a share in Christ’s many sufferings, so also through Christ we share in God’s great help.”(2 Corinthians 1:4-5 TEV) “(God) comforts usin 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.”(2 Corinthians 1:4-5 NIV) “He supports us in every hardship, so that we are able to come to the support of others, in every hardship of theirs because of the encouragement that we ourselves receive from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow into our lives; so too does the encouragement we receive through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 1:4-5 NJB)
As Christians, we have been helped, comforted and supported by Jesus in our suffering. We are, therefore, called or challenged to make visible Jesus’ love for all suffering humanity, by helping, supporting, comforting and being patiently present to all suffering individuals who come our way. Indeed, we need to be ministering angels to one another, to give one another comfort, consolation, courage and strength to move on in life and not be locked in the prison of our past suffering, trial, pain and/or hardship.
However, in helping or comforting others, we must not forget what Mother Teresa says, “Don’t give in to discouragement. No more must you do so when you try to settle a marriage crisis or convert a sinner and don’t succeed. If you are discouraged, it is a sign of pride because it shows you trust in your own powers. Never bother about people’s opinions. Be humble and you will never be disturbed. It is very difficult in practice because we all want to see the result of our work. Leave it to Jesus.” (Contemplative at the Heart of the World, 107)
To learn any lesson quickly, remember the acronym:
“When you ASK, you must LISTEN toand LEARN from the main ideas (ACEs) that are given.”