Why does it happen? Why does anyone have to go through trials? Why does a child die? Why is there hunger? Homelessness? Or loneliness? Why do men leave their families? Why must mothers die and leave children alone? Why do young couples face infertility? Why does an instant change a life profoundly or end that life? Why do we have to hurt so badly? Why do we have to suffer?
I guess everyone has asked similar questions when faced with the difficulties in life. I don’t know that there are reasons why we have to suffer. I don’t think God makes us suffer. He is a loving God who wants us to know and love Him. That’s why we were created…so we would know and love and serve the Lord. However, God may allow us to suffer, because great conversions often take place after trials and Christians mature in their faith by enduring these trials. But for now, let’s examine suffering in this world. What can we learn about this? Can we understand it better? Does anything come from this suffering?
People-people who don’t know what else to say-will say everything will be OK. When you’re caring for a dying child that does not seem possible. How could anything be OK ever again? In the sadness of the reality that there will be an unrecoverable loss, the death of a child, is there any comfort to be found? That everything will be OK does not seem possible.
Some would refer to the Bible, specifically Romans 8:28, ” 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.” I know this verse; I understand the ultimate reality of this verse; and, I agree that when we see Jesus face to face, things will be very, very good and this verse’s promise will be fulfilled. But, until then, how can suffering immediately work together for good when we hurt so badly we are physically sick? What else does the Bible say about suffering? Is there anything more to consider? Anything more that can help the pain?
The first thing I know is that we have to throw ourselves at the feet of Jesus and plead, “Please, God, help me.” We can’t be proud and do things our way anymore. We have to humble ourselves before God and say, ” I can’t do this. You must do this for me. I can’t control this, but I know you can. Take it from me. I can’t carry it anymore. Please don’t let me pick it up again. I’m tired and weary and lost and scared. Please help me face this, God.” I can truthfully say there have been times in my life when I abandoned myself to God’s care. My prayers weren’t answered as I had hoped, but I was given a peace that can only come from God. I believe this is the peace mentioned in Philippians 4:7, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Frankly, if that peace had not prevailed, I don’t know what I would have done.
Another thing that I have learned about is the Catholic teaching on redemptive suffering. This is a deep and profound belief that requires much faith and study to grasp, but in it can be found the comfort in knowing that our suffering can help others.
This belief comes from Colossians 1: 24: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is the Church…”
The main points of this belief are these: Christ loved us so much that he suffered on the cross for us and obtained our redemption. Infinite good came from the agony He endured for us. Salvation was obtained for us through this suffering. His suffering and death was exchanged for our redemption. God put great value on His suffering. Furthermore, God puts great value on our suffering as well.
Now contrary to many “health and wealth” preachers of our day, we, as Christians, are never promised a rose garden. Consider the following verses:
“Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14: 27.
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16: 24.
“But even if you do suffer for righteousness sake, you will be blessed.” 1 Peter 3:14
“For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” Philippians 3: 7-9.
“But if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” 1 Peter 2: 20-21.
Also, remind yourself of the mental anguish Christ suffered prior to His crucifixion in the Garden of Gethsemane in Mark chapter 14.
So Christ suffered and we have suffered, may be suffering today, and will suffer in the future. We won’t escape it, so we shouldn’t be surprised when life throws terrible things at us. The lesson I want to teach here is that good can come from this suffering and it can bring us comfort.
As Christians, we make up the body of Christ. Christ is the head of his Body, which is the church. Read the following verses.
“Now you are the body of Christ and individual members of it.” 1 Corinthians 12: 27.
“For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” Romans 12: 4-5.
Because we are the Body of Christ, we are coworkers with Him.
See 1 Corinthians 3: 9: “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.”
God uses us to complete His work of building His kingdom. Consider a man named Simon: “As they were going out, they met a Cyrenian named Simon; this man they pressed into service to carry his cross.” Matthew 27:32.
By carrying our crosses, we can help Jesus carry His. Our sufferings can be “offered up” to God to “complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, the Church.” Just as Christ sacrificed and suffered for us, we can sacrifice or “offer up” our sufferings in the same way for the good of those around us. Our suffering has value to God. God in His great mysterious ways can use it to build up His Church.
Now read from 2 Corinthians 1: 3-7: ” Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings you will also share in our comfort.”
Romans 8: 16-18 reads: “It is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
By offering ourselves- our lives, our work, our gratitude, our worship, our sufferings, everything- God can use these things for the greater good for humanity. We can share in the redemptive action of Christ and can be comforted ourselves by doing that.
As it says over at fisheaters.com : “Now, is Paul saying that Christ’s sufferings and sacrifice weren’t enough? Is he “taking away from Christ” by saying that we are to “fill up” those things that are “wanting” in His sufferings? No, of course not. He is saying, though, that we are One Body, that we co-operate with God in profound ways ( I Corinthians 3:9 “For we are God’s coadjutors [co-workers, assistants]…”), and that, in an inscrutable way, our sufferings benefit one another. We actually help Jesus in His redemption of the world by giving to Him our sufferings to build up the Body of Christ.”
The big lesson we have to remember about Christ’s suffering is that He did it for us out of love. John 15:13 says: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” We have got to learn to love others as Christ loved us. If we do, then we will find great comfort in knowing that God can use our suffering to help bring about the redemption of others. It makes our suffering worth it. It gives our suffering purpose. We can be comforted in knowing that God does not let us experience suffering in vain. God makes it valuable and uses it to redeem others. It is only by love that salvation was accomplished for the world and only by loving that much ourselves will we be comforted in our sufferings. The great thing about this love is that God can give us the grace to do it. God can give us the grace to love the unlovable and to suffer for the poor thing as well. Hearts can be changed in this way through prayer and by a sincere offering of self to others. I believe it is only by God’s grace that this can happen and only by God’s grace that we could love our neighbor that much. The question is this: Are we open to the grace that would infuse us with that love which would endure suffering for the sake of others? If we are, we will be comforted. We are promised that.
If you are interested in learning more about the teaching of redemptive suffering, I suggest you read the apostolic letter, Salvifici Doloris, by Pope John Paul II. Get your dictionary and your Bible and prepare to think, but also prepare to be enlightened.