The Why of Suffering

There will always be peace and joy in there somewhere.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 1 Peter 4:12 

I started looking at this verse here Strange House Guest.  In that post I wrote about how we most often view suffering as a strange house guest. But here I would like to talk about the why. Why does there have to be suffering at all? 

The answer must lie in that middle part of the verse – the painful trial you are suffering. “Painful trial” is the Greek word purosis (πύρωσις), which means burning or smelting, “a figure drawn from a refiner’s fire.” It comes from the word that means “melted by fire and purged of dross,” refined. 

The word translated “suffering” is peirasmos (πειρασμός), which means adversity, affliction, and trouble, but also testing, trial, and proving. It is a suffering “sent by God and serving to test or prove one’s character, faith, holiness.”  

Peirasmos is the word used “of the temptation by which the devil sought to divert Jesus the Messiah from his divine errand” (Luke 4:13). It comes from a word that means – I love this! – “to try whether a thing can be done.”  

Although he was a son, he learned obedience (attentive hearkening, compliance, or submission) from what he suffered Hebrews 5:8 

Jesus did not need refining as the perfect Son of God. He did not need to learn obedience or learn to hearken to God’s voice. He did it for us, to show us that it can be done, and how.  

One [Messiah] who breaks open the way will go up before them; they will break through the gate and go out. Their king will pass through before them, the LORD at their head. Micah 2:13 

“Learning and suffering and death are part of the life experience for all people, and God ensured that His own Son would be no exception. As God, Jesus did not need to learn anything, especially obedience; yet, at His incarnation, Jesus limited Himself to the human experience. He chose the weak position of having to learn and grow (Luke 2:52). Jesus “learned obedience” not in the sense that He was prone to disobedience and had to bring rebelliousness under control, but in the sense that He fully entered the human experience.” — gotquestions.orgi 

Paul called it a “fellowship of suffering.” Elisabeth Elliot called this fellowship a privilege: 

“We want to avoid suffering, death, sin, ashes. But we live in a world crushed and broken and torn, a world God Himself visited to redeem. We receive his poured-out life, and being allowed the high privilege of suffering with Him, may then pour ourselves out for others.”   

This is not our usual way of thinking, but it is God’s way, part of that one-track focus of his to save the world. It seems to me that if we are surprised by suffering it is because we are expecting everything to go our way. It is a kind of rebellion really. Looking to make our will be done, our little kingdom come. Rejecting the promise of trouble and suffering. Rejecting the Potter’s forming hands.  

But if we expect suffering and refining as his children – because that is what he promised – we begin to be surprised by joy. We begin looking for the blessings. Looking for the answer to prayer. Looking for the fragile life to poke up through our plowed hearts. Looking for the light shining through the broken places. Looking for the other part of the promise of suffering, because there will always be something beautiful included. There will always be peace and joy in there somewhere. 

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13 (NASB) 

“Learn the discipline of being surprised not by suffering but by joy. As we grow old . . . there is suffering ahead of us, immense suffering, a suffering that will continue to tempt us to think that we have chosen the wrong road . . . But don’t be surprised by pain. Be surprised by joy, be surprised by the little flower that shows its beauty in the midst of a barren desert, and be surprised by the immense healing power that keeps bursting forth like springs of fresh water from the depth of our pain.” — Henri Nouwen, Daily Meditation, “Be Surprised by Joy” 

Let us strive to be surprised, not by the suffering, but by joy. Let us pray that we may be the barren desert from which His life can spring up. Let us pour out the life that has been poured out into us. Jesus has gone before us; he has shown us the way. 

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 

You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. 1 Thessalonians 1:6 

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering … 2 Timothy 4:6 

Photo copyright 2018 Derek Bair

I Am The Way

We don’t get a map and detailed instructions when we decide to follow Jesus. We get Him.

I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.” 

Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” 

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. John 14:2-6 

I love how Thomas speaks up and says and asks the potentially dumb, or embarrassing, things for all of us. He was an all-my-ducks-in-a-row type person that I can relate to. He wanted to see the nail marks and put his hand in Jesus’ side. He wanted to hold the map in his hands.  

“How can we know the way?” This time, when I heard him ask the question, I heard the underlying panic (or maybe it was mine). Wait! How can I follow you when I don’t know the way? It sounds like you are saying that I have to DO something. Perform, be perfect. I’ve got to be RIGHT (read self-righteous). I need a detailed map. Where is this way?! 

But what did Jesus say to him? “I am (I exist, I am present, I was, I am, I will be) the way …” 

Basically, Jesus was saying “I am the map.” The get-it-right-performance junkie in me (and, in my imagination, Thomas) immediately is anxious. What does that mean? How do I DO that?  

But Jesus compassionately went on to say, “No one comes to the Father except through (through, with, in, by the means of) Me.” 

We don’t get a map and detailed instructions when we decide to follow Jesus. We get Him.  

Recently I read a quote from Oswald Chambers that took my breath away. 

“To be so much in contact with God that you never need to ask Him to show you His will, is to be nearing the final stage of your discipline in the life of faith. When you are rightly related to God, it is a life of freedom and liberty and delight, you are God’s will, and all your commonsense decisions are His will for you unless He checks. You decide things in perfect delightful friendship with God, knowing that if your decisions are wrong He will always check; when He checks, stop at once.” — Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest 

“You are God’s will.” At first the idea repelled me. It almost seemed blasphemous. How could I be the will of God? This is how my wise sister answered my question: 

“This confirms in my spirit. 1 Corinthians 2:16 tells us we have the mind of Christ and do hold His thoughts, feelings and purposes. We grew up “wrong” but we are now God’s masterpieces created anew in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:10). In Christ we are new – the old has gone (2 Corinthians 5:17) and we are whole in Christ (Colossians 2:10). 

And really, what’s the worst that could happen if we get it wrong now? God makes all things new. Faith steps out of the boat.” 

Praise God for wise sisters! What is the worst that can happen if I mess up? I get to experience his gentle correction, the rod and the staff of the loving Shepherd.  

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.  Psalm 23:4 

So, what does it take, walking this Way? Complete surrender. Drawing my life from His. Dying to self and letting him live in and through me – this temple of the Holy Spirit. Walking forward, sometimes in the dark, through, with, in, and by the means of Jesus. 

It’s not about my righteousness – about me getting it right – but about his righteousness. His is the righteousness; his is the faith; his is the love; his can be my actions and my words. If I lean on Him. If I abide in Him. 

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:4-5 

I get this feeling that we will need to be abiding, hidden in his great heart, more and more as we follow him forward. If you are not already abiding in Christ and he in you, please give your life to him today (see wrestlingwordblog.wordpress.com/salvation/ for help.) 

For anyone out there who doesn’t know where you’re going, anyone groping in the dark, Here’s what: Trust in God. Lean on your God! Isaiah 50:10-11 (Message)  

But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.”  

And He said, “Come!” i 

Image, You Are Here by Mario Klingemann https://flic.kr/p/ddNU5   

iMatthew 14:27-29 (NASB)