Suffering is part of life—and it has a purpose.
C.S. Lewis once wrote in a letter to a good friend, “I could well believe that it is God’s intention, since we have refused milder remedies, to compel us into unity, by persecution even and hardship. Satan is without doubt nothing else than a hammer in the hand of a benevolent and severe God. For all, either willingly or unwillingly, do the will of God: Judas and Satan as tools or instruments, John and Peter as sons.”
We are all born into a world that is facing the consequences of sin, and we ourselves are not exempt. God is not the author of suffering and evil, but He does allow it. The question we ask ourselves is, Why?
Remember the waters of Marah from the Old Testament. When the people of God came to the waters of Marah, they were dying of thirst and yet the water was bitter. But when God told Moses to put the piece of wood—representing Christ and the cross—into the water, it instantly became sweet! When the Lord enters into our suffering, we are changed from the inside and He helps us to see the situation from His perspective.
We learn that lesson again and again as we look at the lives of people like Joseph, Daniel, Moses and so many others.
God uses our suffering to make us more like Him and to make us a blessing to others.
In his popular book, God in the Dock, C.S. Lewis says, “If we find man giving pleasure it is for us to prove (if we criticize him) that his action is wrong. But if we find a man inflicting pain it is for him to prove that his action is right. If he cannot, he is a wicked man.”
What Lewis is saying is that since God is good (His very nature is love), His actions also have to be good—even if those actions cause pain. Because of this, we must conclude that suffering has some beneficial meaning and purpose for us.
Suffering is like a piece of metal that is put into the fire. To an untrained eye, through the process of heating and melting it appears as though the metal is being destroyed. Yet in the end, it comes out as a most precious and beautiful creation. Similarly, suffering has the unique ability to change us on the inside. Kindness, sympathy and empathy for others can all be formed in the furnace of suffering.
St. Paul echoes this sentiment to the Romans when he talks with joy about the suffering he was enduring for the sake of the Gospel and the elect.
Think about the massive problems that Joseph faced in his life. Little did he know that the trial he was enduring would become the training ground for his future. How appropriate when he later says to his brothers, “What you intended for evil against me, God turned around and used it for good!” Over and over again we see this repeated in Scripture.
This is a different season.
God is a God of seasons. He gave us six days for working and set apart a seventh day for our rest. Yet we are so often disobedient in this area and instead just keep on going and going. Stepping away to pause and be silent is a difficult instruction for us to follow.
But look at Moses. With a massive number of people depending on him, surely the greatest need for him was to physically be with them and to lead them each day. But God essentially said to him, “Leave them there and come up here alone with Me.” For the next 40 days, Moses would spend time with God. At the end, when he finally comes down, he brings with him the answer to their problems: The Ten Commandments, which becomes the guide for future generations to follow.
Maybe this season of “isolation” during the coronavirus can be a time for us to be silent and quiet—a critical part of our spiritual journey. Let us be deliberate to change our mindsets to see this not as a massive inconvenience, but rather as God allowing us the gift of time to pray and meditate and spend time in solitude with Him.
Seek to be a light in the world.
If you look around, you’ll easily recognize we are surrounded by a feeling of darkness, fear and emotional distress. Look in the eyes of your neighbor and the people you pass by on the streets each day. Look at the suffering they are carrying with them. How are we to respond?
Scripture tells us when Jesus saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion (Matthew 9:36).
Yes, it is dark around us. But Jesus said we are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). And it’s only in darkness that the light becomes meaningful. The stronger the darkness grows, the brighter the light will shine. Let all of us look for ways to shine our light in any and every way we can.
How can we be that light today?
1. Use our energy and resources to help the poor and needy.
Some of our churches in India recently cancelled their major meetings in an effort to stop the spread of the virus. Not only did they cancel the meetings, but the churches decided to use the funds to help the poor and needy. The local media actually used the churches in India as an example, urging people to follow their example.
2. Cooperate with the government authorities and their recommendations.
Romans 13 encourages us that following the instructions given by our government is as if we are obeying God Himself.
Governments all over the world are taking steps to provide resources and guidelines to help people in need and protect as many people from sickness as possible. I’m especially grateful for the Indian authorities who did all they could to rescue stranded citizens, enforce the recent shutdown and provide massive education efforts among as many people as possible. I also thank God for U.S. government which is now giving finances to help people in severe need. Let us do all we can to partner with them and support the leaders of our nations.
3. This is an opportunity for us as the Church to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
- This is an opportunity to spend increased time in prayer. The coronavirus can lead us to pray a lot more for those in need and those serving among them—doctors, nurses, family members.
- This is the time, by the mercy of God, that churches at large everywhere, must not hold on to the resources they have, but rather give it to the poor and needy in their communities. This is an incredible opportunity—let us make the most of it.
4. Think about others.
- These kinds of situations can lead us to respond in panic instead of faith. When I hear the news that the largest supermarkets have no toilet paper and other essential products, I thought about those individuals who fearfully bought those things all up without pausing to think about the rest of the people who would be left without.
- While it’s natural to be very concerned about the virus and our safety (and it’s important to keep healthy), let us be aware of the needs of those around us.
- Be others-centered at this time. When you are going to the store to buy things for yourself, take a minute to think about others and how your decisions might affect them. I heard about a group of people recently who went and bought groceries for elderly people who were unable to go out themselves. How wonderful!
Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 25:40, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”
Stay healthy, stay safe and be the light in this darkness.
Read more posts on Patheos by Dr. KP Yohannan Metropolitan, or on his blog at kpyohannan.org.
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Thank you for a sobering look at who we are and how He is using this time. Looking at Isaiah 26 it seems He has given us a picture of what is happening. May we enter our chambers, shut our doors behind us and hide ourselves for a little while until the fury has passed by.
Thank You again.