was like. The movie The Passion of the Christ gives us just a glimpse of His excru- ciating pain and agony. I saw the movie only once and could not endure watching the entire scene in which He is beaten by a Roman soldier. I covered my face and felt sick at just the portrayal of the brutality. Yet if we want to know Christ, it involves experiencing the power of His resurrection and the fellowship (participa- tion) in His suffering.
The Transforming Nature of Suffering
Suffering changes us! Whether it is physical, emotional, or spiritual, we are changed. For me personally, emotional suffering gave and continues to give me
much, but His suffering will not be in vain. In fact, through His suffering God will heal the nations, and this servant will be glorified . . . .
We must look at suffering in a differ- ent way; we must see it from God’s perspective rather than just man’s . . . . That makes me wonder if Isaiah was speaking to us today. . . . Many will taste of salvation thanks to the bitter cup all of you have swallowed (The
How do we make sense of the perse- cuted church in China and many other countries? How are we to understand that bad things happen to good people— Christians are killed in tragic accidents, and children die of cancer? Some preach- ers suggest if we are really Christians, we
SUFFERING HAS A WAY OF MAKING US “BITTER OR
BETTER.” MUCH OF WHAT COMES FROM OUR SUFFERING HAS TO DO WITH OUR ATTITUDE,
OUR TRUST AND FAITH IN GOD, OUR NEED AND DESIRE FOR CONTROL, AND OUR WILLINGNESS TO ALLOW OUR MESS TO BECOME OUR MESSAGE.
more compassion for people who suffer things over which they have little or no control. Suffering raises our awareness of issues and circumstances that we may have had previously little knowledge of, and it gives us empathy and a better understanding of the body of Christ. Topics such as oppression, domestic violence, child abuse, abortion, rape, sexual assault, and same-gender attrac- tion are not easily discussed in the church community. However, these things exist in our world and in our churches, and we are commanded to bring hope, healing, restoration, and the good news of the gospel to those who are captive, bound, and wounded by sin.
By honesty and transparency, when we share our sufferings with others, and tell our stories of overcoming, we offer hope and healing to them. Our “mess” often becomes our “message.” Richard M. Barry wrote:
Isaiah says this servant [Christ] will be despised by men, reviled. He will suffer
will not have suffering in our life. Howev- er, because we live in a sin-cursed world, we will know suffering.
The apostle Peter said, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6-7 NIV).
The Redemptive Potential of Suffering
The story of Joseph in Genesis is one of my favorites. It is easy to only remem- ber the end of the story, when Joseph achieved fame, power, position, and rec- ognition. But reflect on Joseph’s suffering. He was sold into slavery by his own broth- ers, accused of a crime he did not commit, sent to prison, and completely forgotten. I don’t believe Joseph was saying, “Thank You, God, for this wonderful life You have
given me!” No, I think he may have ques- tioned his pain, loneliness, and hardship. Yet he remained faithful to God. Genesis 39:23 says, “The Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did” (NIV). Eventually Joseph said to his brothers, “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. . . . You intended to harm me, but God meant it for good” (45:8; 50:20 NIV). Suffering has come and will come to us in this life, yet God redeems it, using suffering to conform us to the image of His Son, Christ Jesus, and using it to bring glory and honor to His name. Suffering has a way of making us “bit- ter or better.” Much of what comes from our suffering has to do with our attitude, our trust and faith in God, our need and desire for control, and our willingness to allow our mess to become our message. If knowing Christ is our heart’s desire, then our surrender to His will and His redeeming of our suffering will be a testimony of God at work in our lives. As we “press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14 NKJV), that resistance we “press” against gives us added spiri- tual strength.
I believe that God has good plans for each of us, plans to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). Yet, there is a villain who is battling for our very soul. Jesus called this enemy a “thief [who] comes only to steal and kill and destroy,” but Jesus came to give us “life . . . to the full” (John 10:10 NIV). Suffering comes in many ways and forms, but 1 Peter 5:10 is our promise: “The God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and stead- fast” (NIV).
Will your prayer and mine be, “I want to know Christ even in the fellowship of His suffering”?
Gail Clark Lemmert, M.A.,
NCC, is a counselor who lives in Cleveland, Tennessee.
EVANGEL • APR 2010 15
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