While it is true, technically speaking, that “everything happens for a reason,” the truer fact is that not all reasons are justifiable. Some reasons stink. There was a reason behind the Holocaust, but it was an evil reason. There was a reason behind 9/11, but again, not a good one. There is a reason why people murder people and why people die unexpectedly, but the reason may not have anything to do with why or how much we suffer. And the reason certainly may not have been a God-inspired one.
All suffering is not good or of God, but the great news of the Bible is that God can redeem anything. Here are ten truths about suffering to build hope into your life:
1. Myth: Suffering is caused by my sin (it is always my fault).
Truth: Disaster, other people’s sinfulness and the state of the fallen world are all causes of suffering, and none of that is my fault.
Do you remember that scene in The Sound of Music when Maria and the Captain confess their love for each other? She sings this line to explain her current good fortune: “Somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good” (fyi: unless you’re Hindu, that’s not sound theology). Most of us, when it comes to our pain and suffering, tend to sing the same tune with different words. “Somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something bad.” Somewhere, I screwed up and now God is after me. Philip Yancey reminds us in his book — Where is God When It Hurts? — that “the book of Job (in the Old Testament) should nail a coffin lid over the idea that every time we suffer it is because God is punishing us or trying to tell us something.”
2. Myth: Suffering is caused by your sin (it is never my fault).
Truth: At least some of my suffering is the result of my own poor choices, my decision to act against God’s law.
It is a very human thing to encounter suffering and ask, “Who started it?” But even if it isn’t always our fault, to say that our suffering is never our fault is not biblical, either. At least some of our suffering is the result of our own poor choices. Think “texting and driving,” for instance.
3. Myth: Not all suffering is the result of sin (sometimes, as the old bumper sticker says, stuff just happens).
Truth: All suffering is the result of sin – either mine, yours, or Adam and Eve’s (the fallen world).
If it isn’t always my fault and it isn’t always your fault, sometimes it must be no one’s fault, right? Wrong. Directly or indirectly, all suffering is the result of sin — either mine, yours, Satan’s, or Adam and Eve’s (the fallen world). Suffering is not part of God’s original design. It is an effect of the fallen world. We know this intuitively, because we don’t believe we will suffer in Heaven. We know it biblically, because everything in the Garden was good.
4. Myth: All suffering is good (God loves to see us suffer, because it makes us better people).
Truth: “Suffering is never good in itself, but God is able to use it for good in a number of different ways.”
We suffer from too many bad cliches about suffering. God does not need another angel. Everything does not happen for a good reason. And even if God will give us strength to handle anything, we don’t always want to be strong. Side note for those wanting to comfort a friend who is suffering: Sometimes words are not the best help; sometimes just being there is.
5. Myth: All suffering is bad (God wants us to avoid it at all costs).
Truth: God can use suffering to draw us to Christ, bring us to Christian maturity, and make our lives more fruitful.
God has a knack for redeeming the most unlikely things. C. S. Lewis says, “Pain is God’s megaphone.”
6. Myth: All my suffering is God’s fault (I’ve done so much wrong that God has rejected me).
Truth: God’s grace separates us from our sin.
Gods’ grace is always greater than our sin. Period.
7. Myth: All my suffering is Satan’s fault (I am a threat to Satan and he’s trying to ruin my life).
Truth: While all suffering is caused by sin and all sin is the property of Satan, it is not wise to avoid personal responsibility for what happens in our lives.
My guess is that the enemy of our souls spends his energy on the ones who are a threat to his kingdom. The rest of us, he just watches for entertainment.
8. Myth: If I pray enough, I won’t suffer.
Truth: If I pray enough, I can expect to suffer (see truth #7, sentence #1).
James 1:2 says, “Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you face trials of many kinds.” Notice that James did not say, “if you face trials” but, “when you face trials.” Whether we are the Lord’s or not, we will suffer.
9. Myth: If I suffer, I must be a great Christian.
Truth: Nice try (see truth #2 and truth #7).
While not all suffering is holy, God is not afraid of suffering. He is not afraid of pain. He will allow us to live in it until we finally come to the end of ourselves and take hold of his love. How amazing to think, as Corrie ten Boom once said, that “there is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.”
10. Myth: All Christians suffer greatly on earth.
Truth: All people suffer, and that should prompt us to pray for the Kingdom to come.
Everyone struggles. Everyone has bad days, everyone grieves, everyone sins, everyone makes mistakes. In the final analysis, it isn’t whether or not we will suffer, but what we do with it that counts. That’s the mark of Christlikeness. What we do with our suffering proves what we really believe about Christ’s ability to make good out of anything.