Is There Purpose in Pain and Suffering? Part 1

2020 will be a year for the history books.  A year that will change our entire world.  A year that woke us all up to the value of hand washing with soap (Yes, kids, I really did mean use soap.  Sigh.).  A year where families regained all the missed time together due to busy schedules.  A year where people caught up on sleep, set new habits of routine, and learned to exercise daily.  A year where business owners learned that their minds were capable of incredible creativity and ingenuity.  2020 has brought the world to a moment in time that will impact lives forever.

At our church we talk about having kairos moments (Mark 1:14, see footnote).  A moment in time where God breaks into your heart and opens up a truth for you, or a moment where God changes your heart and, as a result, changing your direction.  My kairos moment came one Sunday morning as our pastor preached on the topic of suffering.  The past four years leading up to the morning’s sermon had been filled with losing our third child to miscarriage, leaving a church and ministry job that we loved, and moving cross county to the land of unemployment and uncertainty.  Then followed by two more moves and a heartbreaking decision by my husband to leave his career as a pastor.  And a Lupus diagnosis for me.  

My days were filled with migraine, vertigo, all over body pain, and utter fatigue.  On top of that I had gone back to teaching music after being a stay-at-home-mom for 9 years.  That in itself is a shock to the body, regardless of having an autoimmune disease!  With my husband leaving full time ministry, I was left questioning my own role as my time as a pastor’s wife had come to an end.

So there I sat in the second row of the sanctuary, hearing this verse from Hebrews that would break open the wells of sorrow in my heart.  “Although he (Jesus) was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8).  As I sat in that row, the tears began to roll.  If Jesus had to suffer in order to learn and practice perfect obedience, then how much more will we as humans suffer, who are also sons and daughters of God?  If Jesus had to walk through the darkness to reveal the light of salvation, then why do I think I get a pass from suffering?  If Jesus fulfilled his incredible role on this earth by enduring pain, temptation, sorrow, and loss, and we know him through partaking in his suffering, then my life experience and suffering actually begins to make sense.  It has purpose and informs the lens through which I view my life and circumstances.  

Truth be told, I do not know what the rest of the sermon was about that morning.  But God had made his point.  His words pierced the dark shadows in my heart, and shone the light of truth into my pain and sorrow.  My struggles, my suffering, were being used to not only make me more like Jesus, but also to show me that suffering is the necessary way to know Jesus more fully.  In our suffering we see more of Jesus’ humanity and more of his deity.  We receive more of his grace that flowed out of his own suffering as we realize he knows what we are feeling; he identifies with our hurts, pains and sorrows.  He knows what pain, longing, loss, heartache and grief feel like.  That is the beauty of God coming down to earth and taking on human flesh.  He truly knows us, his people.  He truly identifies with our fleshly longings and struggles.  He is not a God who is far off, but is one who has walked the human path.  And by leaning into Jesus we are able to draw from all his strength and power; his Spirit lives in us to fill us with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control – even in the toughest of circumstances.

 The apostle Paul speaks of knowing Jesus more through sharing in his suffering – that suffering is not an end to itself.  Suffering has purpose and direction.  “…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”~Romans  5:3-5.

To suffer is to know Jesus more.

Five years later I can trace backward that Romans passage through the lens of suffering.  I am more fully assured that God is good and has a good path laid out for me.  My hope is in his promise of goodness toward me and his promise to make all things right one day.  My character has changed to be more like Christ – more resolved, steady, patient.  Patient in my pain, steady in my expectations of what life is supposed to be, and resolved to live each day in surrender and utter dependence on God, who loves me and holds me in his hand.

I know that 2020 has brought hardship and suffering to many through the COVID-19 pandemic.  This will be a year that will change lives.  And in the midst of uncertainty, sickness, unemployment, and remote (I would say crisis) schooling, can we see God at work?  Can we lean into Christ’s own suffering and find strength in his character and his power?  Will COVID-19 bring you closer to God or move you further away?

 

*The concept of a kairos moment is explained in detail in Building a Discipling Culture, by Mike Breen and the 3DM Discipling Team.

 

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