What Should We Do When We Suffer?

 October 8, 2014

So far in this series, we have asked, Can a loving God give suffering?  We found that suffering is a signal that alerts when something is wrong. God gives us the warning because of His love.

We have wondered, Does God care when we suffer? We found that He suffers more than we do.

We have asked, What was God thinking to make us suffer? We learned that our thoughts are not His. He is, after all, God. We are made to please Him.

We have questioned, Why do bad things happen to good people? We found we only look to God when we can look nowhere else.

What do we do with all this? How do we use this information when we see pain in the eyes of a child in a war-torn village? How does that help when every day is fought with pain?

In living with pain, we often find accidents are not as debilitating as pain that is repetitive and constant. It is not the mountain that defeats our climb but the sand in our shoe. All the little things added together weigh our thinking and break our hearts.

How do we guard our heart when we continually work with those in extreme suffering to prevent burn-out, hypersensitivity and fatigue? For example: those working with child abuse victims can easily become hypersensitive—seeing abuse where there is none. This quickly leads to skepticism and withdrawal.

Dr. Brand, while working with lepers, wisely cautioned his apprentices not to be totally sensitive to all the needs of all the patients or they soon become insensitive to all. He asked God to identify one or two select patients with special needs on which he could focus. This enabled him to remain sensitive without hardening to repetitious suffering.

In Mark 14:7, Jesus says, “For you always have the poor with you…” Poverty will not be eliminated. The pain remains.

We act as the nerve receptor cells. (Remember from Can A Loving God Give Suffering?) We receive the message. The Holy Spirit transmits the message to Christ, the head. He receives from His body the messages of pain that we endure. He feels it. He knows it. He suffers.

Romans 8:26-27 takes on new meaning, “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

We see the pain of another, and we direct our thoughts to God beseeching His help. He tells us what to do.

We will not eliminate pain. Nor should we want to, if pain makes us look to God. Sometimes eliminating the pain of another is the worst thing we can do for them. There is danger in helping another in pain if God is seeking his attention. If we interfere, he may harden his heart away from God rather than look to Him. We must seek God not only in our own pain, but when we help another.

Look at the prodigal son in Luke 15. Do you think that the father was ignorant of the son’s intentions? Do you wonder at the father’s willingness to give the irresponsible son all his inheritance? Do you think that the father’s pain was any less than then the son’s? (The father hurt long before the son realized that he should be hurting.)

John Wesley’s mother was once foolishly asked, “Which one of your eleven children do you love the most?” Her wise answer reflects the anguish of a parent’s heart: “I love the one who’s sick until he’s well, the one who’s away until he comes home.” A parent is only as happy as his most hurting child.

Does that mean we keep them home and choose for them so they don’t choose poorly? We let go, watch the Heavenly Father’s face, learn His thoughts and find peace in Him.

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.” James 1: 2-6 

We may be quick to say, “I still don’t understand.”

And so we don’t, God is God and we are not. But many times our statement of misunderstanding lies not in the fact that we don’t understand, but our misunderstanding is our desire to change God, to conform Him to our thinking. I’m sorry, my friend, that ‘understanding’ will not come.

So what do we do with this information?

  1. Acknowledge God is God.
  2. Know that God is good.
  3. Recognize God works all things for His good, even the wicked for His glory. 

(Remember the two premises that we started with in this series? God is good and God is in control.)

Romans 8:12-25 walks us through the process—from acknowledging our heart that thinks our own thoughts to suffering to see Him. It is a long passage—do not skip it because it seems familiar to you. Read it with what you now know of suffering.

“So then, brothers, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!"

The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God. And if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope for who hopes for what he already sees! But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.”

Do you see God wooing us by suffering to bring our wayward thoughts to Him? Right after this passage is Romans 8:26-27—the Spirit petitioning for our requests as we bring our hearts bare before Him. Can you feel the heartbeat of the Father? Do you know that He cares, not just in your mind, but in your heart?

Do you want to hear the final words that God gives after the suffering, after directing your thoughts to Him, after recognizing your self-sufficiency is not enough?

Read the next verses. Romans 8:28-30 “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among any brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”

What does God say after we have been stripped of our own self-sufficiency and we are conformed to Himself? He says ‘it is good.’

Does He leave us stripped, exposed and needy? Look at the final verses of that chapter, Romans 8:31-39.

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being put to death all day log; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ But in all things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height,, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

We are reminded of His love.

Suffering from the hand of a good God, Who suffers more than we do, makes us look to Him, acknowledges our heart that is bent away from Him, and needing to know His thoughts. We have come full circle—for we again see the love of God.

What should we do when we suffer? Acknowledge God’s goodness…God’s love…God’s plan and worship Him. 

Brand, Paul and Philip Yancey. In His Image. Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1987

Lewis, C.S. The Problem of Pain. NY: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1962.

 Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.


Displaying 1 comment

Thanks for this series on suffering, I've really appreciated it. Much I knew, but it's good to hear it in a different way and be reminded of God's love through it all. And as you said, it's the day after day after day suffering, the sand in the shoe, that wears one down - even those who aren't suffering, but are living with one who is. I'll admit, sometimes I REALLY get tired of it.

Author of Biblical fiction, married to my best friend, and challenged by eight sons’ growing pains as I write about what matters.

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