Every Christian should be equipped with a theology of suffering. They should be prepared for the day when the unthinkable happens to THEM.
Let’s face it. Life can be pretty awful. We live in a world surrounded by violence, illness, political uncertainty, war, revenge, and rage (I don’t live in LA, but I drive the LA streets and highways frequently, where I’ve seen the realities of “road rage” that kills people).
One day you sill lose your job. Someone will betray you. Your beloved family member will face devastating illness. And unfortunately, in those moments, many of us begin to doubt the goodness of God.
We didn’t doubt him or get angry when our neighbor got cancer. We didn’t doubt him when we read devastating news about a disaster in a developing nation. But the moment suffering hits US where it hurts, we can begin to question our faith.
I call this “Umbrella Theology”: our often unspoken belief that the crappy stuff in life should happen to other people and not us.
Because I don’t deserve it. Because I’m special to God and his child. Because I’m scared and I couldn’t take it. Because I’m really better than those other people somehow (yes, we do think this, we just don’t want to admit it).
Well, the storms of life have collapsed my umbrella theology, and I’ve been blessed to receive Special Education in Suffering through my experiences with illness, loss of loved ones, and other painful STUFF THAT IS NOT FUN. But I’m not anyone special. You’ve experienced these things too, and if you haven’t yet, you will.
Here’s my theology of suffering in a nutshell:
- As a Christian, I should expect suffering. The Bible tells me to.Read what Paul says in Romans 8:18: …For I consider that the sufferings of this present time (this present life) are not worth being compared with the glory that is about to be revealed to us and in us and for us and conferred on us!
- The Bible tells me that God wants to make me like Jesus. I’m called to “take up my cross” and learn from him. I’m called to become like him, so I will go through painful trials.
- Suffering connects me to a hurting world. Suffering gives me cred among other people who suffer–which is pretty much my neighborhood, my community, my nation, and the world at large. That’s one thing that’s so amazing about Jesus–knowing that a perfect Savior suffered rejection (his own family wanted him to shut up about his ministry), isolation, physical pain and illness. He KNOWS my pain because he experienced it. That’s the kind of comforter we look for in other people.
- Suffering proves the essence of my faith. I need a God who is big enough for the worst of the worst. I don’t have a faith worth offering the world if my God is only sufficient for broken toes, flat tires, and traffic jams. The way we suffer THROUGH trials shows the world who our God is and if he can be trusted or not.
- Suffering demonstrates that I trust God when I don’t understand. A lot about this world just plain stinks, but the truth is that God created perfection and beauty, and humans create the stink, then blame God for not stopping them for their choices. Suffering means that I trust a God who knows more than I know. If my God doesn’t know more than I know, then he’s not worth trusting anyway.
- Suffering gives me a platform. We all want to hear from overcomes, and as Christians, we are promised that our faith overcomes the world. My faith swallows fear and doubt. My God is just too good–even if circumstances are devastating.
- Suffering draws me closer to God. Easy times sure don’t–they keep me focused on the superficial. Suffering reminds me that I wasn’t created for a broken world, but living in the presence of Jesus in a world that’s restored. Suffering reminds me of the bigger picture and how my story is one thread in God’s eternal story.
For further reading, I’d suggest my books Love Letters from the Edge (Kregel Publications), The Silent Seduction of Self-Talk (Moody Publishers) and Precious Lord, Take My Hand (Discovery House Publishers), as well as Why? The Question That Never Goes Away by Phillip Yancey.