While visiting with a couple of friends recently our conversation turned to suffering. Not the most delightful of conversation topics I know. Each of us has dealt with or is in the midst of some form of suffering. Really who of us hasn't dealt with suffering? The whole world deals with suffering.
I have been thinking about this conversation a lot, because our conversation wasn't full of complaints. Which it certainly could have been. It wasn't about our worries, our fears, or our frustrations. Which would be completely understandable. Our conversation was instead about the good that suffering can work in us.
Yes, I said good.
Don't get me wrong! I'm not about to start asking the Lord to give me extra suffering so that I can experience more of that kind of good. Yet, maybe I should. But really, I would be willing to never suffer again! I don't like it! I don't like it when I suffer! I don't like it when others suffer! However, I cannot deny that if we let Him, God takes our suffering and turns it into something good. Something compassionate. A testimony of His mercy and love, while granting us joy and peace.
God is not immune to our suffering. He feels it. He suffers with us. Joshua 1:9b Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. I believe when God says He is with us, He is saying I am experiencing all you experience, and I will see you through. He is not just a bystander. He wants to be in it to win it (so to speak) with us! Because suffering isn't just about the moment. There is a bigger picture. Jesus knew that!
It helps me to know that Jesus too wasn't keen on the idea of suffering. His request was, "Father, if it is Your will, take this cup from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done. Luke 22:42. Jesus was facing taking on the sins of the world, being beaten, and then death on the cross. I too would want that taken from me!
And Jesus never sinned. I remember my own outrage the few times in my life when I've gotten stuck with the blame for something I did not do. I wonder if that ever crossed Jesus mind. But He was looking at the bigger picture. Jesus accepted suffering for our sins so that we could be forgiven. So that we could have the hope of eternity with God. An eternity free of suffering! So that we may one day live in the perfect world God intended, instead of the one we cursed with sin.
Jesus did not waste His suffering! He allowed God to work something awesome through it! All He asked in return is that we believe, repent, and follow Him.
There are many who would say that God in His goodness should simply remove suffering and make life better. I admit, I would kinda be alright with that plan. But then I wonder, what would we gain? What would change in us? Wouldn't we, if left in our sinful state, end up right back where we are now? It's sin after all that has brought about suffering.
Though I too would be glad to let the cup of suffering be taken from me, I do not want to waste my suffering! Instead I will pray it creates compassion in me! That it brings hope bubbling to the surface for all to see! That it makes in me a generous heart to help those in need. That it brings into focus the bigger picture for anyone who does not yet believe. Because though we suffer now, our eternity can be suffering free!