From Eric Rossman
For many of us this current struggle is not the most difficult suffering we have gone through. Nevertheless, though to differing degrees for different people, it is all still suffering.
Athletes missing out on competitions they trained so hard for is suffering. Kids not able to attend classes and learn curriculum that was planned for them is suffering. Being separated from those we love and relationships we rely on is suffering. People losing their jobs is suffering. Families losing someone they love because of the virus is deep, deep suffering.
In some ways a lot of the suffering I’ve faced in this is familiar to me. Because of a debilitating back injury I have multiple times in the last few years, with little warning, been laid out for weeks, stuck at home. Chronic pain constantly has me where I do not want to be, unable to be were I want to be. Many suffer far greater than I do, but this is the suffering that I know. Paul Tripp, in a blog he wrote during his daughters recovery after a horrible car accident, writes a description of suffering that our entire world can understand right now:
“We tend to think of life as being secure when we can understand it and when we have it under control. Suffering transports you beyond the boundaries of your reason and your control. It forces you to respond to what you do not understand and to react to what you did not plan. It frustrates our love for comfort and ease. It denies us the order and predictability that we tend to expect. Suffering doesn't submit to our desires and it does not cooperate with our plans. Suffering is a kidnapper that comes into our lives, blindfolds us, and takes us to where we do not want to be.”
I have felt the reality of that description many times. In light of that description it is hard to understand the Apostle Paul’s words “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Rom. 5:3-4). How can Paul say that suffering produces hope in us when times of suffering make us feel so hopeless? I believe that suffering does not make us hopeless, rather it reveals that we have placed our hope in something that cannot come through for us.
Paul Tripp goes on to write:
“But suffering is not just a kidnapper, it is also a teacher. Suffering teaches you that life in this broken world is frought with danger. It warns you that physical things are weak and impermanent. It points you to the fact that there is little that you actually control. It instructs you as to where reliable comfort and sturdy hope can be found. Like a patient teacher with a resisitant student, suffering pries open your hands and asks you to let go of your life. Suffering invites you to find security, rest, hope, and comfort in Another, and in so doing, assaults the irrrationality of personal sovereignty that is the delusion of every human being. In that way, suffering is not just a kidnapper, and not just a teacher, it is also a liberator. Suffering frees us to experience a deeper comfort and hope than we have ever had before. The problem is that we don't always want to be free. Even in difficulty, we fight to retain what suffering shows we didn't have in the first place.
Pray that we will not fight, that we will be good students, and that we will celebrate our freedom even in the midst of exhaustion and pain.”
I hate back pain and the disability that comes with it, I have never enjoyed it. But I am thankful for and rejoice in the hope it produces in me (though I still struggle). Pain has taught me not to put my hope in my own abilities, that can be lost in a moment. Pain has taught me not to put my hope in my own comfort, that I can neither create nor guarantee. Pain has taught me to hope in Christ. Where we find a love that cannot be changed by anything we do or don’t do. Where we find a purpose that no circumstance can stop. Where we find a future that cannot be lost.
Apart from Christ I truly believe suffering would overcome me. It would only be the kidnapper, it would not be the teacher or liberator. Unable to pick up my kids in years, do any work around the house, or play and have fun in even the least demanding of physical activities would be devastating. Without Christ, without a God who redeems this broken world, without a God who is not frustrated or caught off guard by any hardship or disaster, suffering leads to hopelessness.
But in Christ I have found that while I am physically struck down, I still can proclaim Him to others, in fact my weakness does not hinder me but actually strengthens me to do so for His power is made perfect in weakness. In Christ I need not worry that my disability and suffering will keep me from giving meaningful experiences or life to my children, for life is only found in him. In Christ I need not worry about being the outgoing, active, fun person I saw myself as before my injury, because my identity is found in Him and his love for me that doesn’t change. And in Christ I hope for and long for that day when I will no longer suffer, that because of his blood purchasing eternal life for me, everything will be made right. In Christ I can hate my suffering as well as rejoice in my suffering, because it produces in me a true lasting hope.
I pray that this current suffering will produce hope in us. Athletes hurt over your lost potential accomplishments, but rejoice over the greater things Christ has accomplished for you. Friends hurt because you are unable to be near those you love, but rejoice because Christ is near all who hope in him. While we hurt over things that we lose, let it cause us to put our hope in that which we can’t lose, and rejoice in the great gain that Christ purchased for us on the cross.
3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 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. 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.