Suffering–Bad or Good?

You read the title and thought that’s a no-brainer, right?

This morning my devotional thought was “called to suffer,” (1Peter 2:21) And my instant reaction was yuck!

I think I understand a lot about suffering–the good, the bad, and the ugly, and still my reaction is bad–certainly not what Peter and James talk about. If you’ve never read them, they say “count it all joy.”  Oh sure!

Seriously? Consider suffering as joy? Why?

Because it brings good. Brings the true you out. Can you suffer gracefully? Do you run from it? And what happens when you can’t? Do you go into self-pity? Whine? Cry? Become the martyr? Blame God? Others? Or all of it?

Pain is hard. It can really mess up your head. I’ve seen the lies that get spun from it–all bad things about us, and many times others. Sometimes they deserve it, and times they don’t. And God gets a bad rap too, usually.

So what is good about hurting? It shows what is truly valuable to you. Do you know who you are–your worth? your value? Do you know what is important to you? What you really believe? Is there anything or anyone you will suffer for? Or are you just a storefront? A façade? A pretend person? In psychology we call it a “persona,” the mask we wear for the public; and we all have them, but hopefully they don’t have us. In other words, we don’t completely believe that is who we are–we are aware that we have a dark and a light side. If you don’t know that, you will be suffering at some point.

That is the good in suffering.

Also this morning I am leading out in a study on chapter 5 of book 5 in Love’s Playbook. It is still following Moses through his dark night of the soul experience where he is questioning everything, especially God and himself. He thought he knew who he was and what he was doing, and then in an instant it all went south. So much so that it was like starting with a pile of ashes. A lot of people in California can relate to that. Only worse. He had nothing, but he wasn’t sure if he believed anything either. His literal and faith-based world had been turned upside-down.

I’ve decided to go back to the introduction in Job, because his story is all about suffering and what we can learn about it and from it. Seven life questions are listed there and I even came up with another one or two–mainly making sense of where we are and what we live with. It provides a framework for understanding many things–especially why we believe crazy things about God. Why we suffer, who is responsible (besides our poor choices), and what we can do about it.

People who suffer graciously bring good out of it, and often will tell you they would never give up the experience. I heard that again this week on the news: from a girl who lost her legs to save her life because she kept having heart problems. It was a radicle solution, but it worked, and she is now a nurse working in the same hospital that saved her life. She said if she could give up her prostheses and have her legs back but would miss that three years experience, she would never do it. The suffering was that valuable to her.

I’m sure Jesus would say the same thing about his three and a half years of suffering here–more like 33 years. (Can you even imagine not having a dark side and yet being stalked by the dark side continually? Horrific!) And he didn’t even need character development. But “he was perfected through suffering,” meaning he values the experience so much because it helped him (and the watching universe) understand us and relate to us, and understand the heinous character of evil and its ruinous effects.

Isn’t it interesting that suffering is the means to the end of good. That something God won’t allow in the hereafter is used as the purifier. Hmmm.

What does that mean? Could we say the doorway to character is how we relate to suffering? It shows if you can be trusted. Do you really want good? Really want love? Or does it grow hate and anger in you? It separates the phonies from the solid. Are you willing to trust God even when He allows you to suffer?

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