A Clear Context for Suffering


We avoid pain because…
We have cultivated unhealthy perspectives

God commonly uses pain and suffering in people’s lives to get their attention and to grow  them up into spiritual maturity. Nonetheless, most people work very hard to avoid pain.

Why is that?

One of the greatest contributing factors to our distain for suffering is that we do not rightly value it, specifically in comparison to the seriousness of our sin and to the gloriousness of heaven. Most of us find it hard to stand up under painful circumstances because we haven’t prepared ourselves well for it in our hearts. For all too many of us, when the trial comes, we lack two very critical pieces of context within which to rightly receive and evaluate it, and what God might be doing through it.

Suffering vs Sin

boo-boo brown medicine bandage on injured finger

Our view of sin

First, as a rule, people have an unhealthy view of sin. We don’t really believe sin is all that serious. It’s a minor problem, a snafu, a mistake. It’s a slip-up. It’s, “I know that was bad, but I’m only human.” Or the famed, “At least I didn’t… [do something that someone did whom we consider to be worse than we are].” In short, for many reasons, we excuse the flaws that God would refine out of us (like burning impurities from gold to make it pure). We feel like we need a bandaid to deal with a minor infraction, when God tells us that major surgery is needed. And we tend to overvalue and overemphasize the sins of others while simultaneously undervaluing and underemphasizing sin in ourselves.

God simply doesn’t see our sin the way we do. Unlike us, He understands the devastating consequences of sin, and loves us too much to permit those consequences to devour us and those we love. Even the smallest imperfection in your character moves the heart of God to go to great lengths in order to bring healing and restoration to your life and reconciliation to your relationships — with Him and with others. You may not realize it, but your sin is greatly damaging both — even the sins you might consider to be “small” or “minor.” You may think your pride or critical spirit or selfishness is no big deal, but it is. You may think your private sin is actually private and doesn’t affect others, but it isn’t and it does.There is no understandable or excusable sin. Your sins are a big enough deal for the Eternal Son Jesus to leave His throne in heaven, take on flesh, dwell among a profane people, submit to torture and murder, and be separated from God. Your sins are significant enough (and His goodness and love are great enough) to induce God the Father to send His Son to do all these things on your behalf.


God’s view of sin

So, if Jesus suffered so expansively for your sin, why would it not logically follow that your sins are important enough to God that He would introduce a temporary, comparatively insignificant level of pain and suffering into your life in order to set them right?

If you had cancer and a surgeon caused you a great deal of pain on the operating table to cure you, would you think that he was cruel because he did what it took to save you? I doubt it. Or what about the doctor that amputates your leg while you’re unconscious from fever to keep the gangrene from spreading and taking your life? Does that make him a sadist? Does that mean he’s cruel or is playing games with your life? Hardly! But we don’t seem to realize that sin is worse than any cancer or gangrene. It separates us eternally from God and would cast any one of us — no matter how virtuous he or she may appear on the outside — into the fires of hell if it is not redeemed … destroyed … refined … burned … amputated out of our lives. So, if it takes some pain — even severe pain — to rescue you from such a horrendous fate, then it is exactly God’s goodness and God’s love which compel Him to put you through it for your own sake.

Here vs Heaven

mansionThe other reason we can wrongly value pain is our overly-lofty view of this life, compared with our severely anemic view of heaven. Most of us have it so good here on earth that we don’t really care that much about heaven. In our most honest moments, we’d be forced to admit that we see the contrast something like this, “I’m sure the clouds will be fluffy and beautiful and all that, and that the harps will sound great, but a really big TV and a really glitzy car, or a mansion with a pool and a tennis court … those would be really amazing.” And of course we believe we can have both (whatever heaven is and a bunch of cool earthly stuff). Besides, heaven is a “someday” thing; we want [fill in the things or circumstances that you think would make your life totally amazing] right now!

Because we don’t have a clue what heaven is like, we don’t long for it like we should. And we don’t know what heaven is like, because we haven’t spent enough time with Jesus. We think we know what peace is, for example, but we really don’t. If you could have true, deep, abiding, soul-quenching peace, what earthly trinket or treasure would you not be willing to pay for it? Or love; do we really know what love is? If you could be accepted and held and made beautiful and always be satisfied, wouldn’t you want that? What would you sacrifice to have it? Or real security? Or real wisdom? Or any of a dozen other things we spend our days clawing and scraping to achieve in this world, even in their dimmest, weakest, poorly replicated form? But in heaven, because you will truly be with God, all these things and more will be yours.

Meanwhile, those things feel out of reach to us here on earth. Or if we do believe they exist, we believe that we will bring them about by the strength of our own mighty hands. So, we fix our hearts on earthly things we believe are means to achieve these ends, when in fact they are idols which weigh down, distract and poison us into a dull-eyed complacency that Jesus said was so hard to escape that He likened it to a camel passing through the eye of a needle (Matthew 19:24). And because our hearts are glued to things and relationships and circumstances, we fail to see that if God’s perfecting work (to make us like Him and fit for eternity) costs us any, or even ALL, of these things, then it would be well worth it. As we’ve discussed, God would wrench every one of our idols out of our hands in order to give us Himself, which is better by far.

To really say, with Paul, that “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21), we must have a clear and compelling vision of who God is and what God has in store for us, and a clear and discerning understanding of how hopelessly dim and insignificant the things of this world are by comparison. If we viewed Christlikeness as the unparalleled treasure that it truly is, then we would readily undergo whatever painful surgery God felt was necessary in the sanctification process.

Sanctification (n.) —
1) The process by which God transforms us into His likeness as an adopted child.
2) The journey through which we, day-by-day, look less and less like rebellious Satan groupies and more and more like Jesus.

Read more about the goodness of God.

About Jeff Block

Lover and follower of Jesus, the long awaited King. Husband and father. Writer and seminary student. On a long, difficult, joyful adventure, learning to swim with the current of God's sovereign love and walk with Him in the garden in the cool of the day.
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