Suffering and faith
The Christian faith is a realistic faith. Life is going to be hard. It will have in it unjust suffering, hardships, difficult times, pain, and abuse. Every human life is one filled with pain and pleasure. Sometimes the pain is far greater than the pleasure.
So the question is not “How do I live a pain free life?” But rather “How do I handle the pain I will have in life?”
Now, this is not to deny that we can avoid some pain. Sometimes avoiding pain is good. We can avoid hangovers by not getting drunk. A person avoids an increased chance to get sexually transmitted diseases by living sexually pure. By showing up on time for work we avoid getting fired for being tardy.
When we suffer for sinning we really should not be surprised. Irresponsible actions normally lead to painful consequences in the long run. Righteousness eliminates many painful consequences from sin out of our lives and this is one of the practical benefits of living right.
However, some pain will come to us because we have chosen to be righteous.
One example of this is found in the nearly 60% of teenage women that choose the right road of not aborting their babies have to live with the social shame of their family and friends, the physical difficulty of giving birth, the financial struggle of being a single mother, and the question of giving their baby away in adoption or keeping it under difficult circumstances.
No one can tell them how their children will turn out. Will they love their mothers or rebel against them? There are no promises or guarantees. In choosing to give life to their children they have done the right thing but it has a cost, which they must pay. Sometimes we are persecuted for righteousness sake and sometimes because we follow Messiah Jesus we suffer.
Some of the suffering we experience is unjust. People lie to us. People abuse us. People betray our trust. People sin against us and against those we love.
At such times our faith is being tested. Will we respond to the suffering as believers or unbelievers? Will we interpret our suffering in the context of our faith or will we understand our suffering in the framework of doubt? What is the difference?
Unbelief and doubt when faced with unjust suffering becomes bitter and not better. When filled with distrust we question God’s goodness and plan for our lives. We demand that the one who is abusing us change, be punished, or die or we cannot endure to live. We become filled with hatred, vengeance, and loathing.
There was a bible teacher in World War II who had been arrested along those who followed him by the Nazis. He comforted and assured his followers that God would save them and not let them die in the gas chambers. As the group was put in line and as they faced death the bible teacher was at the head of the line with the people who had looked to him for spiritual guidance behind him. He turned to them to give them his last message. He said “There is no God” and with that he walked into the gas chambers. This was the legacy he left the world and he failed to suffer in an attitude of faith. He failed the test.
There was another man who had formed an orphanage for Jewish orphans. He was part of a respected German family. One day the SS came to take the children to the extermination camps. The officer in charge said to the man that the children had to go but he could go home. The man said that wherever they took his children he would go with them. The man and the children also were lined up to enter into the gas chambers.. As they entered the man led the children in a hymn of praise to God.
It was the same gas chambers but a different type of faith. One that accepted suffering as part of God’s will for our lives. This faith is centered in the reality that it was by the unjust suffering of Christ Jesus for our sins that we were saved. Clearly God can use suffering for good.
So understand there is no conflict between having faith in Christ and suffering in our lives. Our faith would tell us to expect suffering and that God will use it ultimately for good (Romans 8:28).
So let faith guide you through your times of struggle and be ready to suffer for the sake of righteousness. This is part of what it means to live a sane, stable, and spiritual life.