Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. 1 Peter 4:1
Bob Corbett recounts the joke about the cowboy with the arrow sticking through his chest. “It only hurts when I laugh,” he quipped. It is an old story, and for doctors, it is an even older problem. The problem is suffering, more narrowly defined, “pain.” It is something like the weather. Everybody talks about it, but the only person who really knows what it is all about is the individual who is experiencing it. We sometimes refer to someone we dislike as “a pain in the neck.” It demonstrates something of the nature of pain often hard to diagnose and even harder to treat.
Pain and suffering fall into two basic categories that are often intertwined that which is physical and that which is emotional. Who can say which is worse, because what you suffer emotionally can be just as painful as anything that you ever suffer physically?
Some time ago a strapping six foot three giant of a man physically sat in my office and described a period of mental anguish he had gone through. He held his head and bent his strong shoulders over as he blurted out, “I’ve endured a living torment of hell these past few months.”
Going beyond the pain and estrangement you feel when suffering knocks at the door of your life, there is a deeper issue. Where does God fit into the picture of your pain and suffering? Is He disinterested? Has He left you to your own fate? Does He take the attitude, “You caused your problems now work them out for yourself”? Or does the heart of God go out to you when you face a period of suffering?
In no uncertain terms, the Bible says that God is vitally concerned with you as a person, not as a statistic or a computer data entry; not as a number, but as an individual made in the image of God. Suffering strips you of the veneer of respectability we have and it lays bare our very souls. And that’s when you learn the most important lessons in life. God isn’t a disinterested deity out there somewhere. He sent His son on an expedition to find you in the gutter, in the doctor’s office biting your nails wondering what’s ahead, and in the darkness of the night as you ask yourself, “Is there any point in going on?”
There is no theological test so great as to face suffering and see the hand of God reach down to you, rescuing you from the pit of darkness and despair. It’s there that you learn that your extremities, your difficulty, is an opportunity for God to show you His power, His love, and His concern.
Remember, Jesus sought the one lost sheep, showing us that God has no “throw-away” children. Through suffering, you learn that you are still important to Him when you have all but given up on yourself.
Suffering will do one of two things to you. It will either drive you closer to God or else it will drive you further away it cannot do both. It depends on where you put yourself in relation to suffering. Put it between you and God and you are the loser put yourself between suffering and God and it will drive you closer to Him. Like a refiner’s fire, it will burn the dross and leave you as pure gold, ready to be fashioned into the image of His likeness. Suffering is one of those things you would never choose but once you have gone through the valley, you wouldn’t trade what you have learned for anything in the world. Of that, you can be sure.
Resource reading: Isaiah 53.