Monday, December 8, 2008

When We Suffer: A Biblical Perspective on Chronic Pain and Illness

Why we suffer may always remain a mystery on this side of eternity. We can, however, glean certain truths from God's Word.
by Mary J. Yerkes

If God loves us, why do we suffer? Christian or not, it's a question that comes up repeatedly during times of grief and tragedy. In times of distress, we want to know that our suffering matters to God and that He cares about our pain.

"Sometimes a fresh word may, in fact, be a very old one," write Joni Eareckson Tada and Steven Estes in When God Weeps—Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty.

1"Truths that are timeless often need only the 'time' brushed away in order to reveal the polished patina that has gleamed all along."

Pastor Tim Hager, an associate minister in the Washington D.C. area, asserts that we suffer because we live in a fallen world.

"When sin entered the world, death entered," he says. "Chronic pain, illness, and disease are a form of death."

Despite this harsh reality, Richard C. Leonard, a minister with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies, urges the chronically ill to take their questions to God rather than allow them to become a wedge in their relationship with Him.

"Follow the example of the Psalmists," he says, "who sometimes cry out to God as though taking Him to task for their problems, but who persist in their conversation with Him; eventually [they received] an answer, reinforcing His faithfulness to His servants."

Suffering, in many ways, remains a mystery, one that we will never fully understand this side of eternity. We can, however, glean these truths from God's Word:

Suffering produces intimacy with God (Job 42:5).

Job, who endured unspeakable suffering, said, "My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you."

Intimacy with God is often borne in the furnace of affliction.

"There's an opening of the soul that happens during times of stress or duress," says Dr. Hager. "During times of suffering, we experience God at a deep, profound level."

Suffering equips us to comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).

Suffering gives us compassion for others who are hurting, enabling us to minister more effectively.

"Sufferers want to be ministered to by people who have suffered," writes Stephen F. Saint in his essay, "Sovereignty, Suffering, and the Work of Missions."

2"People who suffer want people who have suffered to tell them there is hope. They are justifiably suspicious of people who appear to have lived lives of ease."

Those who have suffered make the most effective comforters.

Suffering refines us.

We can read in Isaiah 48:10 that "…I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction."

The meaning of this verse makes it clear that pain and suffering have a way of bringing our strengths and weaknesses to the surface. When the dross floats to the surface, God skims it off; he purifies and refines us to be the radiant bride of Christ.

Suffering produces growth and maturity (James 1:2-4).

If we turn toward God in our pain, He can use our suffering to mature our faith. We see this biblical truth illustrated through the persecuted church. After hearing their testimonies, few would deny that suffering produces beauty and maturity of spirit.

Suffering conforms us into God's image (Romans 8:28-29).

We may be tempted to read these verses to say that God will bring good out of everything. While He can and does redeem pain in our lives, these verses speak of being conformed to God's image through our suffering.

"If we are willing to sit still and let God work, we will find ourselves being transformed into the image of Jesus," says Pastor Paul Daniel Jackson, a pastor at a church in Tucson.

And Jackson speaks from experience.

His wife, Jodee, suffered with breast cancer before passing away in 2002.

"Though this horrendous experience, God did incredible things. Her mother accepted Jesus Christ as Savior…God also changed those who cared for her. Our lives were enriched by suffering [Emphasis mine]."

Simply put, when we seek God through His Word and prayer, we find Jesus. Remember, Jesus understands our pain because he, too, suffered.

We read the words of Psalm 22:1: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?"

Did God abandon His Son in His hour of need? We find the answer three days later—God raised Him from the dead! Because of this promise, we have hope for our future.

"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Copyright © 2007 Mary J. Yerkes. Used with permission. All rights reserved.


1Tada, Joni Eareckson and Steven Estes, When God Weeps—Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty, Grand Rapids, Zondervan Publishing House, 1997, p. 8.
2Piper, John and Justin Taylor, Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, Wheaton, Crossway Books, 2006, p. 112.



Denise said...

Thanks for sharing this.

He & Me + 3 said...

Aren't you so glad that there is someone who knows exactly what you are going through...even chronic illness, us on Earth may not be able to totally sympathize or empathize the pain some people are in, but our Great High Priest knows all our pains...He has been there and suffered too. God is so good!

Marsha said...

Wonderful post, sis. Even in out in the bush I heard of folks making comparisons like that... I go to church and they don't so why am I suffering.

Christianity is not an amulate we use to ward off "evil spirits" and suffering. Instead, we are INVITED into the fellowship of His sufferings. These momentary, light afflictions that will one day disappear when we are forever with Him.

In reading the Psalms, we see so much written about suffering and hardship. What sweet comfort we find when we run to Him.

Love you.

Sunny Shell said...

Amen sister! Thank you for sharing this! Great truths to meditate on! Wonderful words from the wise who's been there, done that and especially wonderful counsel straight from God's word. Just what I needed today!

Bless you for posting this!

Peggy said...

Blessings Michele...Such wonderful insights on suffering and pain. Certainly anyone with chronic illnesses or suffering silently questions why, but is able to shed such light to others when they are burdened with anything. You have shared such wonderful insights!
Truly you've been touched by the hands of God & seen His face!

Thank you for sharing with Mission 4 Monday and all your readers a much needed message from a heart that knows! May Our Lord draw you closer this season with His love & blessings on your life!