The following is a slightly edited excerpt from a letter I wrote a friend years ago…
I want to encourage you through your suffering.
The prophet Habakkuk witnessed and endured suffering on a great level. Habakkuk 1:2-4 reads “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you “Violence!” but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and just never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.” He is not shy in his conversation with God. He lays out his complaints, and asks for an explanation. Job was also not shy to share the depths of his suffering. Job 30:26-28 says “Yet when I hoped for good, evil came; when I looked for light, then came darkness. The churning inside me never stops; days of suffering confront me. I go about blackened, but not by the sun; I stand up in the assembly and cry for help.” The Bible is not silent on suffering, and it certainly does not pretend that suffering is not a part of life.
As I write this, I imagine it is very probable that somewhere in the world two men are currently experiencing stab wounds; their bodies experiencing great suffering. The first man has endured a stab wound as a result of street violence. It is a senseless, pointless injury. A waste. The second man endures the puncture of his skin as doctors aim to remove a cancer so venomous that it will kill him should it remain in the body. He gladly suffers the wound. In this case we see that the wound is necessary for survival. And therein lies the framework for trying to make sense of suffering. No one likes to endure suffering, however, many will endure, even gladly so, when there is a known purpose for it. Suffering for a purpose is celebrated. It is, however, when suffering seems to serve no purpose that we become distraught.
James and Paul both write us and tell us that our sufferings do serve a purpose and are in fact productive (James 1:2-4, Romans 5:3-5.) Both you and I have seen this play out in the lives of many people over and over. We have seen endurance grow into something so much more. Of course, I don't contend, and frankly neither do James or Paul, that this process is easy, or that we go through it without blemish. In fact, I believe that we come out of it with scars. Though strength is our gain for perseverance, scars come along in the process. Scars serve as the evidence that wounds have healed. Every scar that we acquire can be used as a bridge to find healing in the suffering of another. Soon a time will come, if it has not already, where we will be called to use these scars to speak healing into the lives of others that God may be glorified.
Know that your suffering does serve some purpose. We often find ourselves praying that God would relieve our suffering; remove our burdens and afflictions. And sometimes he does! However, would we interrupt a surgeon mid-surgery? No. Rather, we would allow him to finish despite the desire we may have to quit. To stop midway would be to incur both the wound of the procedure while keeping the cancer the procedure was meant to remove. I fear the same would happen if God were to stop refining us. Perhaps, then, our prayer should be that God would give us comfort in knowing that our suffering will produce fruit should we see it through. Perhaps our prayer should be that God would reveal the fruit of our suffering, rather than alleviate it from our lives. Paul claims in Romans 8:28 that God uses all things for the good of those love Him (let us note that it says he uses, not causes.) Our sufferings are used for good! Only our God could take such painful matters and turn them into something of benefit.
I also encourage you to take heart! Our sufferings aren't forever. Through his death on the cross Jesus not only frees us of our sin, but also refreshes us and rebuilds us from the ravages of heartache and suffering. These words from Revelation 21 are familiar to you I am sure; "Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” The day will come when sorrow ceases to exist and pain's effects will no longer be seen. I pray that God would begin to work that peace into our lives this very day and that he would continue to strengthen us with it. Let us hold on to the hope that Jesus gives us. Death is a defeated enemy. Suffering only has a temporary hold on us. The fruit of our victory in Jesus is ahead my friend!
After Habakkuk says his peace, God replies in verse 5 by saying “Look at the nations and watch and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.” Though our eyes and our hearts may be blind to the purpose behind our own sufferings, may we trust that God will work in ways we would not expect and could never explain outside of His power and glory. I promise you this; God in his faithfulness will use our sufferings and experiences to produce far more than we ever imagined should we remain faithful and endure. I don’t contend that it will be easy, but rather it is my hope that by keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus that we will endure.
May we continue to endure.