Monday, April 15, 2013

Overcoming Suffering

This blog is an attempt to help a sufferer to conquer suffering by the grace of our Lord.

        “Each major religion has its own slant on the universal problem of suffering.  Islam says we should submit and accept all that happens as God’s will…Hinduism goes further, teaching that the suffering we bear is deserved, the result of sins we committed in a previous life.  Buddhism frankly admits, “Life is suffering,” and teaches how to embrace it,” says Phillip Yancey.1

God is merciless when he imposes suffering and orphans us without answers. God is powerless when he blames us for suffering and fails to alleviate it, so reincarnation shatters us. God is a sadist when he asks us to embrace suffering, but he will not lift his little finger to help us (God is not required to, for Buddhism is atheistic).

        But the Bible in contradistinction (with the other religions) speaks differently about suffering. Here are some insights from the Bible to overcome suffering.

        First, we should accept suffering. In his first phase of suffering, Job lost his family and possessions. He was in great pain. Instead of rebelling (blaming God), he grieved and then worshipped God (Job 1:20-22). Job, in his second phase of suffering, was covered with painful sores. His wife instigated him to curse God (rebel against HIM).2 He chided his wife and ignored her, for he accepted suffering (Job 2:10). Similarly, we are to accept suffering, not from a defeatist perspective, but as an experience permitted by God on HIS child.

    Job worshiped God in suffering. This implies:

             God is our Sovereign/Almighty heavenly Father, HE is in absolute control. HE is our Creator.

             We are HIS creation/children. We believe HIS goodness among all HIS other attributes.

         God provides everything to HIS children. We bring nothing into this world and take nothing from it. A child gratefully accepts what he freely receives.

             If God provides, HE can take it away. HIS goodness does not change (cf. Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8).

Second, we should acknowledge our weakness (cf. Job 14:1; Psalm 39:3-5; James 4:14) to handle our suffering. Weakness can be acknowledged only in humility when we empty ourselves off our pride.

Ravi Zacharias narrates a humorous incident between the boxing legend Muhammad Ali and an air hostess. In the midst of air turbulence, the hostess reminded the great Ali to wear his seat belt. But he snapped, “Superman needs no seatbelt.” The hostess retaliated, “Superman needs no airplane!” Prides makes us think we are supermen, and supermen should feel no pain. But when we suffer in pain, we are powerless. We need God.

Suffering, a product of sin and evil, is caused by Satan. God is not the cause of suffering. When we battle suffering, we should be mindful of Satan as the adversary. We cannot defeat Satan without Christ. But Christ will enter our lives only when we open our hearts to HIM. If we consider ourselves self-sufficient and strong, we will tend to remain independent of God. So it is imperative to acknowledge our weakness.

We are inclined to grieve because of our weakness. We express our weakness through fear, grief, frustration, anger, and may even think of giving up (1 Kings 19:3-4; Jonah 4:1-3). This is a common response. Our deeds during weakness are more significant than the weakness. Elijah and Noah prayed to God when they were weak.

Third, we approach God in prayer, just as Noah and Elijah did. We pray not as if we are wronged and inappropriately treated (that is rebellion). But we pray as a child to the father. We can pour our hearts out to God. The Psalmist, in sheer pain, asks God to break the teeth of the wicked; he surely knew God as his shield and deliverance (Psalm 3). God will deliver those who believe in HIM (Job 36:15; Psalm 34:15-20). The Lord Jesus, who defeated sin and death on the cross, is the only one who can graciously deliver and offer us the power to live victoriously. It is imperative to remain in the life giving presence of our Lord. To endure suffering, we need the fruit of the Holy Spirit, which we bear when we remain in Christ (John 15: 4-5, Galatians 5: 22-23).

A man could seek help from his friend or expect his friend to be sympathetic to him during his suffering. This works, but not always. Friends may disappoint during moments of suffering. Friends are Christ’s tangible image, but when they remain deaf to pain, and even worse, if they pour more scorn through demeaning words and their absence, the one suffering is greatly mutilated. The persecution from fellow Christians is more unbearable than the pain of suffering. Job’s friends did not console or comfort him; instead they increased his pain through their harsh words. Consequently, God was angry with Job’s friends, and Job prayed for them (Job 42: 7-10). Friends may or may not help during our suffering, but God NEVER disappoints us. We are to remain in HIM.

A disciple of the Lord Jesus never succumbs to suffering. By the grace of God, he lives victoriously through it. He does what God wills him to do. He remains obedient to the Lord’s plans. Suffering is a part of the Christian life; it is a fallacy to think otherwise. Some proclaim that suffering is not a part of God’s plan. This is an utter distortion of God’s Word. If suffering is not a part of God’s plan, then Christ need not have suffered and died to bring salvation to mankind.

        ‘Accept,’ ‘Acknowledge,’ and ‘Approach’ is my suggestion to overcome suffering. We should accept our suffering, acknowledge our weakness, and approach God in prayer to remain in HIM always. Are we weary and burdened by suffering? Christ is our only hope (Matthew 11:28-30).

My next blog is “Life in Suffering,” where I will suggest how we live during our suffering.


[2] In Job 1:5,11 and 2:9, the literal Hebrew is “bless God” instead of “curse God.” The author of the book of Job employs an ‘antithetic euphemism.’ His reverence and fear of God was such that he was unwilling to use the word ‘curse’ next to the name of God.

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