Suffering’s Bad Rap

James 5:11

When people endure, we call them “blessed by God.” Well, you have heard of the endurance of Job; and you saw the Lord’s ultimate purpose. The Lord is deeply compassionate and kindly.

Some of the best yet strangest advice I ever received came from a pastor of mine about twenty-five years ago.

He said that when you’re going through a trial or suffering, the first thing you need to do is thank God for it.

What?

My initial thought was the words of the great Rocky Balboa: “You’re mentally irregular.”

But it is mentally irregular, isn’t it? Yet it is proper, and upon reflection, the only real sane response to suffering. Trials can always work to build our endurance and character. We may not always allow it to do so, but it is the way patience and character are forged. It just is.

As followers of Christ, our thoughts on suffering needs must change at some stage. It is not just pointless pain. I like how C.S. Lewis said that pain is God’s megaphone. It is, isn’t it? If we can muster the focus to listen for a minute.

(Now to be clear, I do not pretend for two nanoseconds to know the why of each suffering instance, if God inflicts it, allows it, commissions the satan to carry it out, if it’s a natural consequence…but we do know that we are called to endurance in Scripture, to perseverance, and that we inevitably will have trouble in this world as Jesus told us straightforwardly. And that trials can/do produce these qualities in us quite effectively.)

So I believe our thoughts toward suffering need to transform.

First, when suffering or trials arise, immediately thank God for the trial. Sounds crazy, but I can’t tell you how much better of a mindset it has put me in when I force myself to do this.

Second, keep in mind that God has an ultimate purpose. Again, you don’t need to understand it all, or fret over your theology with regard to what is happening. Simply keep before you that God has ultimate purposes for earth, humanity, for you, and that these purposes are good and nothing will thwart them.

Third, never stop believing that the Lord is deeply compassionate and kindly, no matter what. The devil tries hard to persuade us the think the opposite. And if we think everything should always go our way, we can fall to that evil thinking rather quickly.

You don’t naturally connect the story of Job with God’s compassion and kindliness, but as we are conformed to the image of Christ, as our thinking is molded into God’s thinking, we are able to make that connection, accept what is before us, and be thankful that our endurance is being strengthened.

 

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