Faith and Suffering

Faith and Suffering

By Joni Eareckson Tada

As I begin to count my blessing each year, I am careful to put my pain and suffering – more importantly, what I have learned from it – at the top of my list. Yes, you heard right. I am thankful for my suffering, not just in spite of it.  

Often, our faith falters and we want to question God’s goodness when we endure suffering, pain, difficulties or disabilities, diseases, death, or destruction. We ask “Where is God in all of this?” In years past, I have raised that question myself many times.

When tragic circumstances arise, I remember something I’ve learned over the years. God doesn’t sit up in heaven and say, “Into each life a little rain must fall,” and then aim a hose in earth’s general direction to see who gets the wettest. Instead, He screens the trials that come our way, building spiritual fences between us and the enemy’s onslaught. His filter is guided by His wisdom and compassion, and He allows through only what is ultimately for our good.

Now you may be wondering how God is able to accomplish this. Well, welcome to the world of finite beings trying to understand an infinite God. The fact is, God permits all sorts of things He doesn’t approve of. We don’t like to hear that, but think of the alternative. Would we rather have a God who took a hands-off policy toward the evil that seems to run rampant in the world? I don’t think so. If we did, we’d be a lot worse off. Evil would come barreling at us uncontrolled. That would be hell on earth. It’s why we can thank God that he curbs evil and suffering.

Decades in a wheelchair have not made me an expert, by any means. There are still many mornings I don’t want to get up and face my wheelchair.  “I can’t do this,” I moan, “I have no resources to face another day dealing with paralysis.” But that’s when I remember God has resources to spare. “Lord, you have the strength I lack,” I plead.  “I can’t do this, but you can.  Please help me make it through this day with your strength and your patience and joy.”  And He does.

Those who start their mornings on automatic cruise control, without needing God, are the truly handicapped ones. James 4:6 says that “God resists the proud, but He gives grace to the humble.”  Who are the humble? Just people like you and me who recognize our desperate need of our Savior. And thankfully, He gives strength to all who cry to Him for help.

We live in scary times when the lines between the forces of good and evil have never seemed so clear. The world, battered and bruised as it is, has never before seemed so fragile, so unstable.  Even our personal world feels unstable. Suffering seems to be pandemic with record numbers of people in counseling for depression or in therapy for dependency on pain-relievers. And sometimes in this craziness, God feels so distant.

But is He? Could He be allowing these desperate times to force us to seek Him more earnestly?  I believe there is a relationship between faith and suffering; a hidden benefit that, at the time, may be beyond our grasp. Forty-six years ago when God answered “no” to my prayers for physical healing, He was answering “yes” to a better, deeper healing. His “no” answer made me reach out urgently for his nearness and presence. My suffering taught me so much about myself and has bound me to other believers who deal with pain and affliction. The day-to-day pain and suffering that never goes away has forced me to depend on God's grace, strengthened my commitment to Him and purged sin from my life. Times of difficulty have deepened my prayer life, refined my faith, and stretched my hope. Most of all, I have gleaned a deeper appreciation for the sufferings that my Savior endured to secure my salvation. And there is nothing sweeter than finding yourself “in the fellowship of sharing Christ’s sufferings” (Philippians 3:10).

So, each year I make a point to thank God, not in spite of my suffering, but for it. I thank Him for the better choice, the wiser answer, and the harder yet richer path. I thank Him for showing me that there are more important things in life than walking. 

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