Is suffering a good thing? Is suffering to be embraced? Or avoided?
Suffering never feels good. That’s why it’s called suffering. Some Christian believers seem to embrace suffering and grow from it personally and spiritually. Other believers seem to avoid it at all costs, wonder why God doesn’t always relieve their suffering, and wonder what’s wrong when suffering continues.
Much of that confusion, I believe, comes from a failure to understand the difference between necessary and unnecessary suffering.
There are countless ways in which we suffer—physically, emotionally, spiritually. But not all of that suffering is necessary or inevitable. It’s not a pleasant thought, but sometimes you cause the suffering yourself.
What about the suffering of material lack—poverty? Have you invested your time and energy well, refusing to blame others for where you are in life? Have you learned good money-management skills, staying away from debt? Have you learned to be a wise steward of any physical resources you have?
What about the suffering from the breakup of a marriage? Did you give up too soon when your marriage might have been saved with hard work? Did you neglect your spouse too long in too many ways? Did you compromise your boundaries, or refuse to deal with damaging things in your own character?
What about physical suffering? Are you experiencing the consequences of a lifestyle of unhealthy eating, no exercise or substance abuse? Have you cared for your body well, with appropriate rest and medical care?
Wallowing in shame and guilt about any of this is not useful. But it is sobering to realize that some of our suffering was caused or at least made worse by the decisions we made and actions we took.
That’s actually good news! Because it also means we can now reduce our suffering in those areas by making new decisions and taking different actions.
God’s people have always suffered. And some of that suffering is necessary if we want to experience all that God has for us in His kingdom.
Moses suffered under the burden of an uneducated band of slaves who regularly rebelled against what God told them to do. Elijah suffered the furious anger of a Jezebel out to destroy him after he demonstrated the reality of the God of heaven. Jesus suffered misunderstanding, rejection and death from those who refused His offer of life. Peter, Paul and others endured suffering as a result of their refusal to shut up about the message God had entrusted them to share.