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October 11, 2012

Suffering 101: The Required Class We Wish We Could Ditch

When life provides us with unwelcome doses of pain, do we cling to God or run away?

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I must admit I wasn’t thrilled a few weeks back when my husband signed us up for an upcoming class at church. . .on the Book of Job.

The teacher is great and the fellowship will be fantastic. But Job?

That book is all about suffering. It’s about horribly difficult questions about pain and heartache and God not intervening or, even worse, playing an apparently complicit role in that suffering. It doesn’t have the ending I want—the ending in which God answers the hard questions and, poof!, turns back the hands of time to magically erase all the suffering. No, Job wades right into the deep, dark muck of pain—the muck I strive hard to avoid.

It’s a human instinct to avoid pain, to steer clear of what hurts, to run like the dickens from heartache.

But what Job, and in fact the entire witness of Scripture, tells us is that suffering is unavoidable and inescapable. It will touch our lives. It’s a “class” we’re all signed up for, whether we like it or not. After all, Jesus reminds us: “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows” (John 16:33.) And he definitely had his share as well.

Will we learn from suffering? Will we grow in and through it?

Much in life can cause us pain and suffering: physical illness, the death of a loved one, the betrayal or abandonment of a spouse, the rebellion of a child, the loss of a job, the breakup of a relationship, and so much more. Thankfully, blessedly, Christianity honestly addresses the heartaches we face in this life. It doesn’t offer pat answers or magical cures. But it does invite us to cling to the God who is present with us in the pain—and to somehow, with God’s help, courageously wade our way through that muck to the other side. And it does promise that, as we cling to God and endure in faith, we will grow in character and mature in faith through the crucible of pain (Romans 5:3–5.)

How have you grown through heartache? How have you experienced the truth that, no matter how deeply it hurts, God will not leave you or forsake you?

For inspirational stories of women who have found hope in the midst of suffering, read this TCW interview with Mary Beth Chapman, or this recent article, “When God Doesn’t Answer.” TCW also offers downloadable resources for small group and church study: see TCW’s Transformation in the Midst of Suffering PDF in the TCW online store.

Kelli B. Trujillo is a TCW regular contributor and the author of the Flourishing Faith devotional series for women, which includes Cultivate Your Character. www.kellitrujillo.com

Related Tags: Pain, Prayer, Suffering, Trusting God

Comments

Loved this article. We try so hard to avoid the things that, in reality, can be some of the closest moments we will ever have with God. We have gone through four--yes FOUR--job losses since 2009 in which our companies have gone out of business. It's been a series of lessons from how we handled our finances, to how to trust that God would provide (He will!), to learning to hold loosely to our dreams in order to live in freedom. Although it's been extremely difficult and full of dark moments, it's amazing how it's also blessed my family. We are so much stronger, wiser, and more giving on the other side.

Thanks for reminding us that everyone will suffer, even believers. Often, we're left thinking that our suffering means we've somehow displeased God, and as a result, He is punishing us. My father died when I was 18; my brother committed suicide when I was 23. Those early losses have shaped me more than anything else. Thankfully, they're rooted me deeply in the sense that God can be good even when life is not. That's something I've experienced personally, and it's a comfort, which I try to give away to others who are facing loss and disappointment. Thanks for drawing our attention towards the difficult dimension of life that we are often wanting to wish away. And thank you for reminding us that we don't need answers as much as we need God's presence.

Agreed. So wish suffering was not such an integral component of growing up. I am now 52 and have been battling health issues for more than a decade. I have repeatedly asked for prayer with more faith than a mustard seed. No miraculous healing - yet. But, I will say that I am beginning to understand that God has a redemptive role for the suffering in our lives (1 Peter 4:1). I am grateful that there can be fruit even in the midst of the pain.

"Thankfully, blessedly, Christianity honestly addresses the heartaches we face in this life. It doesn't offer pat answers or magical cures."

I'm glad this was part of the article because so often people want to do just that--offer pat advice even from the scripture, rather than just sitting with the person in their pain. Weep with them as they weep, the scripture says. But so often, I think most of how we respond to people in pain has more to do with making ourselves comfortable because we don't like pain and discomfort and so we try to just get people to move on. But there can be so much to learn as we go "through" the pain. Running from it, making it go away as soon as possible short-circuits the lessons that are there for us, thus we don't really learn anything except how to escape. And guess what, there WILL be more heartache in pain. Might as well learn from it so as to know how to respond in the future and in order to be able to effectively minister to others.

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