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Friday, May 15, 2015

The Therapeutic Value of Suffering


The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of those depths. — Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, M.D.


Dear Friends, prayer and financial partners,  
I met a monk once who wore a drab, prickly old gunny sack robe. When I asked why, I was told that he wanted to offer his suffering up on behalf of the Body of Christ, and that he was simply taking his cue from Paul who wrote—
“Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”
Obviously, he was miserable. Yet, somehow he had convinced himself that his self-inflicted misery for the sake of Church, the Body of Christ was to fill up what was lacking in regards Christ’s afflictions.
He and others of like cloth insisted that a sure path to personal holiness was to “offer up their suffering to God for the sake of others in the Body of Christ.”
Now, does this make sense to you that a self-inflicted wound would somehow benefit the Body of Christ—that is, the Church? I surely hope not; but sad to say, there are millions of poor innocent, well-meaning religious devotees who feel otherwise. Paul, they say, “buffeted or beat up his body (1 Corinthians 9:27)” in order to stay fit for the Kingdom, and so must we. What an amazing theology, I thought. The Bible, however, says that Christ—
“… was wounded for our transgressions, [further] he was bruised for our iniquities and the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5).”
Surely, that is enough, I believe.
Let me, however, be quick to offer the caveat that one man’s weirdness is, however, no excuse to reject all suffering as meaningless.
There is much that we can and should learn from suffering. More about this later, so let us first look at suffering—all types of suffering, to see if we can form some helpful insights. For, I too, have found as did Dr. Kübler-Ross that some of the most beautiful people that I have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of those depths.  After considerable experience and research on the subject of death and dying, Dr. Kübler-Ross has identified five emotional stages through which the average person processes painful and life changing events such as facing death, but also including divorce and/or other unpleasant traumas that are common to all. These five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. None of which, however—with the exception of the acceptance stage, in my opinion, offers any lasting solution to the problem of suffering. As a matter of fact, the other four—that is, denial, anger, bargaining or depression will only acerbate the misery, as far as I can see.
Yet, the choice is ours. We can deny the problem, as many people do, only to discover later that it has only grown worse. Some people may also choose to blame others, or often God for their predicament. I believe in putting blame where blame is due, but believe me, if you are one of those that blames God or even the Devil for all of your ills, you are simply on the wrong track for any solution at all. It’s not God’s fault that your husband left you, or your child has leukemia. It is not as if God or even the Devil is standing around with a big bag of hurts just looking for an opportunity to con them off on you. Listen, we are in the trouble we are in because of a fallen world.  Disease, misery and hurt are part of the warp and fabric of life. God, according to the Bible I read, never promised immunity from the discomforts of life; as a matter of fact, Jesus once said—
"Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27)
Thus, I believe that Christ wants us to embrace all that life has to throw at us—and, as it were, bear our cross. Through it all, however, we are assured that—
God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
In this regard, I believe that Paul’s assurance in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that we will not be tempted beyond that which we can bear is directly related Christ’s  prayer on the night just before he was to make his long arduous journey to Calvary, bearing his own cross until his physical strength gave way. That prayer was not that we would be protected from evil and suffering, but rather that the pervasive power of the Evil One would not overcome us.
Therefore, we must understand that through it all, Christ fully intends for us to experience the journey—the good as well as the bad time. So, make no mistake, the Godly will suffer. For all of us suffering is a given. None escapes it; nor should we try to read something sinister into our experiences when things don’t go as wished.
Suffering is all part of God’s bigger plan for all of us. Otherwise, why would Christ say that we cannot even be his disciple unless we are willing to embrace our cross? However, I don’t believe that whipping ourselves with a cat of nine tails like those poor misguided flagellates Christians in the Philippines and elsewhere do, or wearing a prickly old gunny sack robe is not what Christ has in mind.
On the contrary, I believe that the reason he insisted that we bear our own cross is that he knew that suffering is inevitable—part of life’s journey. He also knew that suffering is a very good teacher, and that we can learn a lot through suffering. One of those lessons, Paul addresses when he writes that when we suffer—
“We are comforted, so that we may comfort others.” (2 Corinthians 1:4) 
Furthermore, we know that suffering builds character. Paul went so far as to say that— 
“We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5 NIV) 
Pete strikes a similar chord when he writes—
“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:6-7 NIV) 
So, we can quickly see from these few verses that suffering serves a purpose. That purpose is also found in found in Romans 8:28, for —
 “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” 
One of the hardest lessons to learn about suffering, however, is found when Paul declares—
“Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” (Colossians 1:24)
Now, in order to learn this lesson, we must keep in mind that first of all we are the Body of Christ, and that suffering has the strength to purify us—individually and collectively. As mentioned, Peter says, that as gold is purified by fire, we, too, are made pure in and through the fires of suffering. Although, this is counterintuitive to much of what we have been taught as Pentecostals, we cannot, however, escape God’s word. 
What then is lacking in regards to Christ’s suffering? Certainly not our salvation. That he accomplished through his life and death on the Cross. However, what is lacking in the Body of Christ is our imperfection, individually and collective. As individuals we welcome suffering if and when it builds Christian character, and collectively we embrace these hard and difficult time in our lives so that we may comfort our brothers and sisters in Christ.
As I said previously, we must embrace all that God allows—the good and/or the bad, to work in us as a holy catalyst to change us into His image of perfection.
What about divine healing, some will ask? Doesn’t God want to heal us? What about the other trials in life, aren’t these just a hindrance to spiritual progress. Well, I wish I had the answer to each and every question like these; however, I don’t. I simply know this, the purpose of God in our lives is not so much to do something for us, as it is to do something in us.
All that I know in that regard is that—
“We, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NIV) 
How he does that is up to him, and if that includes suffering, then I must embrace it. Paul did. He prayed, he said, three times that God would remove his “thorn in the flesh” as he described it; but God’s answer was—
“No, my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” “Therefore,” said Paul, “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
We serve God's purpose best when we take Paul's example to heart, too, I believe.

Now, may God give us all the wisdom to embrace everything that God allows to cross our path as another opportunity for improvement—
For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:5)
Therefore, we embrace suffering in the confidence of knowing that our God is bigger than our circumstances, and that He cares and understands; and further that to embrace life in general builds character.