Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
— 2 Corinthians 12:8–10
No one volunteers for suffering. As a matter of fact, most of us spend a great deal of our lives trying to avoid even the slightest discomfort. A great number of technological advances were birthed out of humankind’s desire to make things easier, less painful and less uncomfortable. Personally, I am willing to admit that I prefer to dodge discomfort when I am given the option. No one likes to suffer, yet we all do.
In the message on Sunday we learned that all suffering is a consequence of sin. When mankind disobeyed God, it messed up everything. From that moment forward, human history has been filled with stories of sickness, relational tension and brokenness. The fallout of sinful disobedience is literally everywhere, because it polluted everything.
As a pastor, I often find myself in heartbreaking situations. I can’t tell you the number of times I have stood in a hospital room or a funeral home with a grieving family. Inevitably, someone will ask the question we all want an answer to when we find ourselves in the darkest valleys: why? Over the years I have tried to figure out the exact right answer to help take away the shock and pain that suffering brings, but despite my attempts at eloquence, everything seems to fall short. The only thing I know to say is simple, yet profound: because the world is broken. Death was not a reality for Adam and Eve until they disobeyed. Relational tension wasn’t even a thought for Adam and Eve until they disobeyed. Sickness had never entered the human experience until they disobeyed. Sin messes everything up.
My favorite part of the message on Sunday wasn’t the reminder that sin ushed in suffering. That was a needed reminder, but the best part of the message for me personally was the reminder that God doesn’t waste suffering. I love that God is not only present, but active in the midst of the difficult medical report, the broken relationship and the myriad of other unexpected sufferings. For the believer we can move forward in our suffering knowing that God can and will leverage it for our good and his glory. It is hard to realize and especially difficult to celebrate this truth when we are in the middle of our suffering, but it is no less true then than it is right now.
A.W. Tozer, a highly respected theologian, wrote many things over the course of his life and ministry that have impacted my own. As I was thinking about this topic, there were two quotes that I thought were fitting. Tozer once said, “What I believe about God is the most important thing about me.” This is especially powerful in light of something else he once said: “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply.”
Neither Tozer nor I believe that God causes suffering in your life. However, God will let us walk through the suffering that is the natural byproduct of our fallenness. In those places of suffering, so much of our pride, self sufficiency and need for control is crushed, which is not a bad thing. In the crushing, we have the opportunity to die to self and live for Christ. In the crushing, we have the opportunity to let his strength prevail in our weaknesses. In the crushing, we have an opportunity to be more conformed into the image of the Son.
Are you suffering? Are you broken? Are you feeling crushed? If yes, go with it. Trust your heavenly Father to see you through. One day, all of us who are in Christ will see the face of God and never suffer again. Until that day, we trust that God will not waste our hurt.