I recently finished a book by Tim Keller titled Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. Highly recommend it. It was a gold mine, and I took a stack of notes. I’m going to skip over the explanations and go right to the application part of dealing with suffering.
It’s A Matter of Perspective
In a natural secular framework, this life is all there is and the meaning of it is to be happy. Suffering has no place in this line of thought so there are no inherent resources for dealing with it. It’s why we tend to look to older cultures for help where suffering was a way of life.
Suffering is dealt with by controlling your responses. Some medicate, or self-medicate. Others do it through force of will like the Stoics (who leaned towards fatalism) and Buddhism (which kills all desire so suffering cannot take root). There is also finding the source and eliminating it. Either way, the person is all alone with no one to make it right in the secular view.
I went the way of the Stoics after my godson died, deciding to tough it out for the most part. I did talk to therapists and counselors. It still led to a fatalistic attitude and bottling it up. Like a volcano about to blow, people around me started to get burned and I realized I needed GriefShare.
Learning From Suffering
In the middle of the pain, it’s hard to see any good in it. It’s not until after that we can see it. There are three benefits of suffering.
- People who endure and make it through are more resilient. My definition of a bad day is so much higher now.
- Suffering strengthens relationships. It’s where you find out who your friends are. It also teaches you to appreciate the living more in times of grief.
- Suffering triggers a change in priorities and philosophies. We discover what’s truly important, who is truly important. Slights are easier to forgive, petty arguments become pointless, and trivial negatives are overlooked.
There is a line in the movie The Crow, where the main character, Eric Draven says, “Little things used to mean so much to Shelly–I used to think of them as trivial. Believe me, nothing is trivial.”
In relationships, the people we care about, and our actions that affect them: that is absolutely right. Everything is precious.
Suffering Is A Forge
A dear friend of mine quoted part of the 23rd Psalm in GriefShare.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and staff, they comfort me.
“Through.” You have to walk through it. As we walk, we are humbled when we discover how little control we have. That was one of my major wake up calls.
It also teaches what it truly important, and forces us to rely on God. Like the Psalm says, “for you are with me.” Grief and pain are like clouds that hide the sun, but God is there.
The lessons we learn from it can help us to help others.
Suffering is Inevitable (Yay?)
This is a broken, fallen world that will one day be restored. Until then we will face suffering. We may bring it on ourselves, it may be from betrayal, or we have no idea why it’s happening. The one we all face is loss.
Tim Keller’s advice to prepare for it beforehand is to have a deep knowledge of the Bible and a strong prayer life. The first prepares the mind, the second, the heart.
Walking with God in Suffering
Unlike those with a naturalistic secular view, we’re not alone. It’s not a fight we have to fight alone, and we have a hope that their worldview cannot give them. Afterlife.
Tim lays out 8 things to do as you walk through the valley.
- Cry. Be brutally honest with yourself and God. David did, there are several Psalms on lament. Job is an entire book of one man questioning God. Jesus cried bloody tears in the Garden of Gethsemane.
- Trust. Trust God because He is sovereign, and trust His love because He’s been through it. Remember Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.”
Wrestle with it all until you can say is, ‘thy will be done.’
- Pray. Job complained to God, and in doing so acknowledged God can do something about it. Go to church, read your Bible, ask God to help.
- Discipline your thinking. Look back at answered prayers. I keep a list of mine to help me remember. Look at God’s promises in the Bible like all the tears will be wiped away, no more sickness or death, and everything will be made new. Do this until your heart is engaged.
- Self-examination. Adversity presents an opportunity to look at ourselves and ask, ‘how do I need to grow?’ and ‘what weakness is this time of trouble revealing?’
- Reorder your loves. Suffering reveals that we either love some things too much, or we don’t love God enough in proportion to them. Suffering hurts more when we turn good things into ultimate things. Jesus suffered mightily on the cross for us and recognizing that will help.
- Stay in a community. Don’t isolate, find a church where sufferers are loved and supported. Find a GriefShare group, DivorceCare, or Celebrate Recovery.
- Remember some forms of suffering require skill at receiving and accepting grace and forgiveness from God and giving it to others.
Father, I pray that this reaches those that need and read it. That they draw near to you and you to them, wrapping them in your comforting arms. In Jesus’ name, Amen.