I have a friend from Zambia. He and his wife operate two orphanages. All of the children who live in their orphanages are AIDS orphans. This powerful and deadly virus has pretty much wiped out an entire generation – their parents – and what’s left are the grandparents and grandchildren; the middle generation is gone. Because of local laws governing orphanages, multiple siblings cannot live in the same orphanage. So, grandparents have to travel from orphanage to orphanage to visit their grandkids. Imagine the emotional and physical toll on these elderly people.
And speaking of the children themselves: they’ve lost their parents and now they’re separated from their brothers and sisters. My Zambian friend is a wonderful man, but I’m sure these children would prefer their original life with their nuclear family. Just children and already their lives are marked by suffering.
In the past year, my life has intersected with many who suffer: the single mom trying to provide for her three children; the man going thru a painful divorce and starting over; the woman battling loneliness in a new town. And my wife and I have suffered ourselves, trying for two years to conceive and we’re still not pregnant.
But there is value to suffering. You and I might think of suffering only as extreme situations such as losing a son in Iraq, getting cancer, or being kidnapped. But suffering is much more common and everyday; it’s actually defined as “submitting to, being forced to endure or laboring under.” It’s being under the pressure or obligation of an outside person or force.
Often our tendency is to avoid suffering if we can. And we definitely don’t want to think that All-Loving God would invite us to suffer. But according to the verse above, God perfected (which means “matured” or “made complete”) his son Jesus thru suffering. So if God invited his own son to suffer for the goal of maturity, it’s not out of bounds that God would invite us to suffer as well.
God’s use of suffering seems to be a sticking point with many people. They think, “If God is love, why is there so much suffering in the world?” (I would say there are other causes of suffering besides God). But I know the times I’ve seen maturity in my own life have resulted not from ease, but from difficulty. I’ll say it a different way: vacations haven’t matured me, but struggles have, whether they involve work, marriage, family life, friends, personal character, etc.
If we avoid suffering that is initiated by God, what do we miss out on? What triumphs do we forfeit by our refusal to enter in?
Suffering is a gift no one wants, but a gift everyone will receive. What will you do with your gift?