NIAGARA FALLS, Ontario, December 16, 2022 – It’s good to remember that whatever you’re suffering at the moment has God’s seal of approval. That means God is either permitting you to be tested or is permitting you to experience the measure of pain you’ve brought on yourself by your choices. If it’s a test, it won’t be so difficult that you can’t endure it with God’s help (pray!); if it’s punishment, again, it will be measured in such a way that you won’t be overwhelmed by it, as long as you remember to ask God to help you in your suffering (pray!).
We cannot avoid suffering in this life. It’s part and parcel of the mortal realm. Even Jesus suffered during his time on Earth – he suffered tests, which he always passed with flying colors, and he suffered punishments, which he accepted to suffer on our behalf, not having brought any punishments on himself. So if even Jesus had to suffer, we shouldn’t be surprised that we have to suffer, too.
But let’s be honest – suffering sucks. There’s no pleasure in it; all we can do is endure it without complaint until it’s over.
If you’re not suffering now, think of a time when you were. Was your first response to complain? Did you try to do something to mitigate it? The problem with trying to mitigate your suffering by some means other than God’s mercy through prayer is that you’ll have to suffer the mitigated measure in some other way. You don’t get out of earned suffering by taking a spiritual painkiller and thinking that’s that. Oh, we can try (I know I have), but the suffering will just creep up on you some other way.
Is there a way we can avoid suffering altogether? In a word, no, but we can avoid the kind of suffering that comes from punishment. That, at least, is in our hands. If we choose to do God’s will, we’ll sidestep the suffering that comes as the result of disobedience to God.
Tests, however, we cannot avoid. They come whether we want them to or not, and they usually come when we least expect them and least need them. God’s timing is perfect. I have to laugh (after the fact) at the perfection of God’s timing. I don’t need a test on loving my enemies when I’ve missed my bus, it’s pouring rain, I’m running late, and the wheel just popped off my filled-to-the-brim carry-cart, but I’ll get it. I’ll get the test when I least expect it and least need it, and if I don’t pass it, I’ll get it again and again and under similar circumstances until I get it right.
We cannot avoid tests. God permits them for our benefit, though it doesn’t always feel like it at the time. It’s tempting (and that’s part of the test) — it’s tempting to blame God or get angry with him when the test comes upon you. I’ve done that, gotten angry with God. That’s an automatic fail right there, followed by a redo that’s ratcheted up a notch on the suffering scale.
Scripture says that the remnant of Israel will be a poor and an afflicted people. If we count ourselves part of that remnant, we have to accept that our lot here on Earth will necessarily involve poverty and suffering. Let’s not make things worse for ourselves by getting mad at God or grumbling or feeling sorry for ourselves when we have to go through a test or suffer the consequences of our actions. Let’s not make things worse for ourselves by complaining, even about being persecuted for our beliefs. The world complains, but we’re not the world. Let’s just get the suffering over with as quickly as possible so that we can put it behind us and move on. Every test we successfully survive gets us one test closer to Heaven.
Our lot as born-again followers of Jesus is constant joy from the presence of God and Jesus, through God’s Holy Spirit; constant peace, again, through the presence of our divine companions; and occasional suffering, whether from tests or from consequences. All of these things – joy, peace, and suffering – come with the permission of God. We cannot have joy and peace and then reject or resent the suffering, because it’s a package deal.
But the good news is that while our joy and peace will follow us into Heaven, our suffering will not. There is no suffering in Heaven. If we make it Home, we’ll leave all suffering behind us and never experience it again. If we don’t make it Home, we’ll experience only suffering, unmitigated and unending, forever.
No-one likes to suffer. Pain sucks. But if we accept that we number among God’s chosen remnant, we don’t have any choice but to suffer whatever God permits. When I say “we don’t have any choice”, I mean we don’t have any choice but to suffer patiently and in silence if we ultimately want a good outcome for ourselves. The choice to accept the suffering or resent the suffering is still ours to make. We have free will as long as we remain in our human body. But resenting or fighting the suffering or trying to mitigate it in some way (other than by God’s mercy, through prayer) will only make it worse and/or prolong it. All suffering is permitted by God for a certain purpose and a certain end: The purpose is our purification and edification, and the end is our assured election. There is nothing assured in our election until God says there is. He alone, with the assistance of Jesus, is the sole judge.
Remember how Jesus dealt with his approaching crucifixion. He did not want to suffer that horrendously painful death and prayed to God three times to find some other way to accomplish what needed to be done, but God was adamant that crucifixion was the only way. Remember that Jesus, in petitioning God, ended his prayer with “nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt”. God always invites us to petition him. The prayer line directly to God is always open. But his way is the best way, and his say is the final say, and the sooner we get on board with that Truth, the better it will be for us. Jesus couldn’t avoid the crucifixion, but God did lessen and shorten his suffering.
Don’t go looking for ways to suffer, thinking you’ll earn spiritual brownie points. You won’t. But when God permits you to suffer, accept it and pray to God to lessen it or to help you endure it without complaint. If your suffering is not a consequence of your actions, it’s a test. Either way, the sooner you face it head-on with God’s help, the sooner you’ll get through it and past it, and the sooner you’ll get Home.