Have you ever considered the joy of suffering? Can there be such a thing? Is it possible for Christians to view suffering in such a light that suffering is in fact seen as a good thing? I would like to say an emphatic yes to all of these things. Let me share why.
Recently I have had an intense period of trial and suffering; this period of suffering has been going on for five weeks now and I am not sure how much longer it will go on for. When I was first faced with the suffering forced upon me I reacted poorly. I jumped quickly to the conclusion that this suffering was unjustified and unfair. Why should I have to go through this? The more and more I thought about it the more I attempted to rationalise the fact that I should not be suffering and it just is not fair.
So what changed? Well, I happened to be (thanks to the providence of God) reading through Thomas A Kempis’ book ‘The Imitation of Christ‘,
IT IS good for us to have trials and troubles at times, for they often remind us that we are on probation and ought not to hope in any worldly thing. It is good for us sometimes to suffer contradiction, to be misjudged by men even though we do well and mean well. These things help us to be humble and shield us from vainglory. When to all outward appearances men give us no credit, when they do not think well of us, then we are more inclined to seek God Who sees our hearts. Therefore, a man ought to root himself so firmly in God that he will not need the consolations of men.
When a man of good will is afflicted, tempted, and tormented by evil thoughts, he realizes clearly that his greatest need is God, without Whom he can do no good. Saddened by his miseries and sufferings, he laments and prays. He wearies of living longer and wishes for death that he might be dissolved and be with Christ. Then he understands fully that perfect security and complete peace cannot be found on earth.
Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1996), 19.
Quotes like this – and I tell you there are many amazing quotes, I recommend anyone to read it (skip the section on communion on the end) – forced me to stop and reconsider the purpose and joy of suffering. You know I knew that God worked all things together for the good of those who loved him (Rom. 8:28) but what I didn’t realise until now was that the very suffering that I was opposing is the thing that is bringing good. I wrongly assumed that God would make the suffering end as a result of good. But I think it really means that the suffering is the carrier of good. I think this is what Paul is getting at when he says, “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope”. (Rom 5:3-4) You see the truth is, suffering is not a bad thing though it hurts and is a challenge to walk through and deal with, suffering is actually a good thing that should cause us to rejoice. Paul’s rationale is that it brings endurance, endurance character and character hope. I would like to add something to Paul’s reasoning. Not only does it bring all those things, but suffering forces a response which easy living never could. Suffering forces a Christian to rush to his Heavenly Father. It creates a situation where the Christian must lean on Christ all the more, in fact, it creates the context in which Paul says, “In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me”. (Phil. 4:12–13)
I started by asking if you had considered the joy of suffering. I tell you I had not, but now I have seen the joy of it. The suffering I have gone through has forced me to run to Christ, to run to my Father in Heaven, to run to my Lord and my God. And I tell you the truth, if this is the outcome of suffering, then I can definitely say there is true joy in suffering and I say with Paul “we rejoice in our sufferings”. If what I have said is true, I would conclude by saying that it is far better to suffer in this life then have ease. It is far better to live a life of burden and heartache then to live a life of peace and plenty. Let us embrace suffering like children of the Most High God, because he is at work in all our suffering to mould and make us into the perfect image of his Son.