Who wants to suffer? No one, right? In this provocative post, biblical counselor Donna Hart, PhD, delves deep into the truth that sometimes suffering is good for a very special reason. This article appeared first here on Donna’s website and is used with permission.
When we stop and think about a time in our spiritual lives when we have grown the most and felt closest to God, it was probably a time when we were enduring pain or loss due to suffering.
Even though what we endured was not something we would choose to go back to, looking at the experience through the lens of what God was doing offers a totally different perspective. Sometimes we can think that what we gained was so valuable that we can say we wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Suffering Draws Us Close to Jesus
Suffering draws our attention to the nature of the spiritual journey – the path of death, burial, and resurrection – of which suffering is a necessary component. In death we die to sin, and bury it or put it off, and in resurrection we leave the sin behind and put on the new life in Christ.
With a very few words, Jesus captures the essence of the spiritual life:
Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer those things and then enter into his glory? (Luke 24:26).
This insight is one of the most valuable gifts we can give to each other in this spiritual journey. It is through this perspective that people see through what is happening, no matter how painful the events and experiences might be. This insight is critical, because we can be a stumbling block to one another if we fail to understand the nature of the spiritual journey and God’s divine purposes in all aspects of the journey, including suffering.
Suffering Shifts Our Eyes to the Eternal
In His death Jesus laid down for us that which is temporal in order to gain that which is eternal. We must also lay down anything that is a hindrance to us spiritually, or in essence allow it to die, so we can walk in newness of a life resurrected to give God glory.
The difference between Jesus’ journey and ours is that what most often needs to die in us are the temporal sins, negative patterns, and wrong attachments that limit our true self in God. This letting go feels like suffering and death because on some level it is, but what we need to know is that it is death that leads to life. This life is our true self – our very essence – is hidden with Christ in God and is waiting to be revealed (Colossians 3:1-3).
The goal of our Christian lives is to trust God with our whole selves rather than rely on our attempts to achieve safety, security, affection, approval, power and control on our own terms. Our dependence on God is an increasing ability to be given over to the love and the will of God in radical trust, just as Jesus was.
And often times, that trust comes through suffering.
Suffering Brings Awakening and Change
Suffering often initiates a kind of awakening in us and helps us to see more clearly our reliance on and our attachment to that which is not God. Awakening leads to purging, in which God strips us of whatever it is that prevents us from relying solely on Him and moves us to increasing relinquishment of whatever it is we have been clinging to instead of God.
This purging can feel painful and as if we are out of control. But this pain provides us with the choice to continue resisting and fighting or surrender and cooperate with God’s work in us. This is the part that feels like death.
The good news is that after this necessary suffering, the next stage is illumination, during which we start to see the fruit of that suffering, which is greater freedom for God and greater intimacy with God. We can emerge from this experience able to walk in newness of life and union with God in the place where we had previously been resisting.
We can live in more complete surrender as we become more like Christ.