Because of His death for our sins and His resurrection, Jesus is now able to offer us forgiveness and reconciliation to God. If we turn to Him in trust and submission, He comes by the Holy Spirit to live within us. His purpose is to transform us into the kind of people He wants us to be and to fit us for God’s service. Often He will use suffering in our lives to achieve this purpose. Catholics use the term ‘redemptive suffering’.

Mary Craig had four sons, two of whom were born with severe abnormalities, one with disfiguring and incapacitating Hohler’s syndrome, and one with Down’s syndrome. In her book, significantly entitled Blessings, she says:

‘…the value of suffering does not lie in the pain of it…but in what the sufferer makes of it...It is in sorrow that we discover the things which really matter; in sorrow that we discover ourselves’.

She speaks of ‘the redemptive power of suffering’. The word ‘redeem’ means ‘to set someone free by paying a price’. In the Bible the word is used of people or things.

However, if we can think in terms of Jesus paying the price to set us free from the negative consequences of suffering, then maybe it is also a useful term to use in this context. He can set us free from bitterness, rebellion, a sense of hopelessness or uselessness, and other negative attitudes that often come with suffering. He can bring good out of the worst experiences. He is able to teach us the truth of Paul’s word, ‘all things work for the good for those who love God’ (Romans 8:28).

The Bible indicates that suffering can at times be the direct result of our sins. However, it is unique in teaching how God uses suffering for his own glory and ultimately for ours too. This is where the emphasis lies in the New Testament. It is interesting to note the number of occasions when suffering and glory are mentioned together.

True happiness results from being a certain kind of person, not from being in a certain set of circumstances. God loves us enough to persist in molding our character, often through trials, and even when we would rather remain in our immaturity.

C. S. Lewis said in The Problem of Pain:

‘When we want to be something other than the thing that God wants us to be, we must be wanting what, in fact, will not make us happy…whether we like it or not, God intends to give us what we need, not what we now think we want. Once more, we are embarrassed by the intolerable compliment, by too much love, not too little’.

It was this understanding and faith that enabled Helen Keller, blind and deaf from early childhood, to say, I thank God for my handicaps, for through them I have found myself, my work, and my God.’

Fr. Edward Wilson, who died with Scott on the journey back from the South Pole, left this testimony behind him:

‘This I know is God’s own truth, that pains and troubles and trials and sorrows and disappointments are either one thing or another. To all who love God they are love tokens from him. To all who do not love God and do not want to love him they are merely a nuisance. 

Every single pain that we feel is known to God because it is the most loving touch of his hand’.

Jesus did not come to make a way out, but a way through. He came not to make life easy, but to make people great. Life can be like a grindstone for some, but whether it grinds or polishes is up to us.
George Macdonald adds a thoughtful insight when he says:

‘The Son of God suffered unto the death, not that we might not suffer, but that our suffering might be like his’.

Throughout my years of ministry I have often seen folk come to faith in Christ as the result of some personal suffering or tragedy. In some instances I am sure they would not have found that faith otherwise.

The Bible declares that exclusion from God’s presence, and the consequent loss of everything good, is the ultimate end for those who choose to reject God. If this is so, then permitting us to suffer may be the kindest thing that God could do. Sadly, we may refuse to listen to His voice and become hardened or bitter.

A moving story of a Christian who experienced suffering comes from the pen of John Wimber, told in an article in Christianity Today. Wimber has a ministry that has touched thousands of people around the world. He tells of a Christian man whose life was completely reshaped by personal tragedy.

‘One afternoon, while baby-sitting for a family a few houses from his home, this man’s teenage daughter was brutally murdered by a young man who attempted to rape her. At the end of the day, utterly desolate, the father went back to his house and gathered his family together to pray. He bowed his head and said, ‘Father, I don’t understand. But I trust you.’

Over the months and years that followed, he experienced a profound motivation to make Christ known. The story of his daughter’s murder, the pursuit of her killer, the trial, and the father’s forgiveness of the young man were front-page news for months in the Los Angeles area. People knew about him and were willing to listen to him. Through his testimony to Christ, hundreds of people came to faith in Jesus’.

 

Some years later, his 22-year-old only son who had just graduated from college – a wonderful Christian, a fine athlete, a brilliant student – was in an auto accident and his skull was crushed. Today this father cares for his big, handsome boy, who functions with significant handicaps and must be watched at all times. However, the mysterious working of God’s purposes, which would have driven many into unbelief, has driven this man on. He continued to pray, ‘Father, I don’t understand, but I trust you.’ He continues to lead people to Christ. Wimber says:

‘I am one of them. One evening years ago I knelt in this man’s living room, and he prayed for me as I turned my life over to Christ. Something that was in this man’s life was placed on me…God blessed me and gave me great opportunity. I carry in my being the mantle that was passed on to me by this man.

I am sure that if I were designing a programme to prepare an evangelist, I would never come up with anything like that…But God’s action in this man’s life produced a broken and contrite heart, and a highly motivated personality. He went out and has done the job the Lord gave him from that day forth.

If we are going to pursue the things of the Lord, we will often not understand what he is doing… As my friend always used to tell me, “Sometimes God crushes a petal to bring out its essence.” Sometimes he offends our minds to reveal our hearts’.

God may not remove our suffering, but he can transform it into something that will bring benefit to us and glory to him – if that is what we desire, and if we will trust him to do so.

 

Adapted and edited from an online book by Dick Tripp. http://www.christianity.co.nz/author.htm

This article can be found in Mirror 0116.