Insights into Suffering

(CONTINUED)

The Problem of Pain and Evil

Christian Insights into Martyrdom and Persecution

Why do the innocent suffer? Why do bad things happen to good people?
Accidents, tragedies, environmental disasters, crime, war, sickness, famine . . .


By Grantley Morris


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Part 2: Best understood after reading Part 1

This takes the form of a conversation with Jesus

In everything desirable, Lord Jesus, no one comes anywhere near you. No coach has ever gloried in his athleteís success, no father has longed to lavish his children with gifts, no lover has delighted in his belovedís pleasure, like you long to thrill and fulfill your loved ones with endless joys. I want to participate in your miracles, reveling in your supernatural power. Since delighting in the gift, honors the giver Ė and no one deserves thanks and honor like you Ė I want to thrill with inexpressible joy over your every gift. Surely this is a vital part of loving you and letting you have your beautiful way with me. And yet is that all there is to life? It sometimes feels as if there is a missing element.

For years Iíve had the occasional precious moment of intimacy with you in which Iíve felt a peculiar warmth about the possibility of suffering for you. This feeling bewilders me. Iím frustratingly ordinary. I can only stare wide-eyed at those who talk of visions and hearing regularly from you. I long to know you and love you like you deserve, instead of the vague way that I currently do. Relative to what I crave, itís as if I see you through the darkest welding goggles, feel you through a paper bag, and hear you through insulation bats in a disco. Iíve grown used to you dropping thoughts into my mind that rocket my understanding heavenwards with thrilling new insights. But this time, by giving me this peculiarly positive feeling towards suffering, you seem to have rather sneakily bypassed my tiny brain by giving me wondrous feelings that have left me mystified. (How delightfully unpredictable you are! Your beautiful character is so reassuringly constant, but your methods are too wonderful for me; bubbling with such superior intelligence that often they take me by surprise.)

Facts, not feelings, usually move me. But as my Lord you have every right to burst my emotional straitjacket and intellectual pride. This is just what seems to happen on these occasions. I bless you for feelings apparently from you that outpace my thinking. These positive feelings towards hardship are delightful but they seem so otherworldly and so out of touch with my normal human reaction to hardship that I feel the need to dissect and analyze the feelings to try to come to grips with them rationally.

Among many Christians I admire, using oneís mind gets bad press. I would be labeled Ďunspiritualí the moment they hear the word Ďanalyzeí. Is this your view? Certainly, it would be foolishly wrong to reject anything just because I canít make sense of it. Yet you made us intelligent beings with an inherent need to process events mentally. Good things can get horribly twisted, but everything about the way you originally made us is good. So I ask you to both illuminate me and to bring my thinking into submission to you. I rejoice in your right to utterly baffle me by acting in your unfathomable genius. I adore you for having none of my limitations. Your intellectual superiority warms my heart, making me wonderfully secure and guaranteeing that I could never be bored with you. And I love the way it settles arguments between us. Life became so much simpler when I discovered that you are always right! When all is revealed Iíll have plenty of regrets about my own decisions, but Iíll celebrate forever the perfection of your decisions.

So I joyfully yield to your right to mystify me, and I welcome the opportunity it affords me to grow in faith. Rather than merely be mystified, however, I would love to grasp enough understanding of your wisdom to be able to marvel at it. I know that one day I will see clearly the brilliance of your decisions and then Iíll be in awe. Nevertheless, I crave the joy of admiring as much of your wisdom as I can down here. You yourself said the most important commandment is to love you with every part of our being, and you specifically nominated loving you with our mind as well as our heart (Matthew 22:37). So, Lord, here goes . . .

The first thing that sets my mind reeling about viewing suffering favorably is that I have no reason to suppose Iím even as brave as Peter, the Christ-denying disciple whose confidence in his devotion proved unfounded. You know Iím a born coward. Rather than nod in agreement, however, you seem to dismiss my concerns with the retort, ĎYouíve been born again.í What a tangle of conflicting emotions that reply sets off within me!

Among the hundreds of millions of your adoring children, you must have literally millions who have done more than me to prove their love for you. Yes, I continually embrace emotional pain for your sake. For nearly all my adult life I have steadfastly refused to even pray for any legitimate way to reduce the pain, if doing so would reduce your glory. Nevertheless, Iím suddenly ashamed of the pettiness of my ordeal when I consider the excruciating torment of your agony on the cross. My trial is more an unpleasant ache than registering high on the torture scale. Self-pity might keep me feeling like a martyr but I have no right to claim familiarity with severe suffering.

With my love for you largely unproved, I am just a bag of wind; an armchair hero. Yet still, spasmodically, positive feelings about suffering come upon me  . . .

I worry that I could get things out of balance and disappoint you by missing earthly pleasures you have lovingly planned for me. Similarly, I fear that seeing suffering in a favorable light might get out of hand by weakening me in my fight against evil. What if I go to the extreme of passively submitting to spiritual attacks from the Evil One, instead of rising up in your blood-bought authority and fighting off the attacks? I would be devastated if I fell into the foolishness of not only suffering needless deprivation or attack, but of spoiling your longing to bless me. Yet, despite these concerns, the positive feelings continue to come  . . .

My initial, bumbling attempt to analyze what I feel during those holy moments is that I seem to become a little like a rescue worker so desperate to save lives that while the emergency exists, his own safety and comfort mean almost nothing to him. Itís more wonderful than that, however. What comes upon me is more like the feeling of a thrill-seeking adventurer who delights in danger and hardship, because he knows this is what creates both the excitement and the opportunity to be hailed a hero.

During labor, a woman might be adamant that never again will she expose herself to the pain of childbirth, and yet later she could find herself longing to have another baby. Itís as if when I am caught up in your presence I undergo a similar, though perhaps less dramatic, shift in perspective towards pain and hardship.

In my more somber moments I sometimes wonder why you do not always intervene to prevent Christians from suffering, but when I sense your presence is this special way, I see things differently. I recall a cartoon in which a man of the cloth playing golf hit a hole in one. A little annoyed, he prayed, ĎLord, please let me do it by myself!í Except perhaps for games, I want to do everything in partnership with you, never entirely alone. Nevertheless, in almost everything there comes a point where too much divine intervention would spoil things for us. The chance for glory would fizzle if you removed every difficulty. In your loving wisdom, you give your children the perfect mix of challenge and removal of problems.

And does the relative ease in my life show me in a bad light? I feel uncomfortable reading what the Bible expects of normal Christians. I donít fit. By New Testament standards Iím abnormal. Over and over your Word says such things as:

    2 Timothy 3:12 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted

    1 Peter 4:12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. (13) But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.

    1 Peter 2:20 . . . if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.

    Matthew 24:9 Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.

    Luke 6:26 Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.

    Romans 8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? (36) As it is written: ďFor your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.Ē (37) No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

    Philippians 1:29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him

    2 Corinthians 12:10 That is why, for Christís sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

    Matthew 13:21 But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.

    2 Timothy 1:8 . . . join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God

And thatís just a fraction of such Scriptures. I see New Testament Christians rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be flogged for you and I wonder if my soft life implies I am unworthy. Are you babying me; treating me like a spiritual weakling who cannot be trusted in the real world Ė the world that is hostile to you? And that raises another concern. Why do non-Christians in the Western World seem to tolerate us? You said, ĎIf they persecuted me, they will persecute you alsoí (John 15:20). Does their indifference imply we have misrepresented you? Have we toned down your message until it becomes something your enemies can tolerate?

During those times when I feel particularly close to you, I seem so captivated by your magnificence that Iím caught up into hero worship. I find myself longing to be like you. And in the back of my mind is the consciousness that perhaps the most distinctive of all the special things about you is that you turned suffering into a unique opportunity to achieve immense good. You not only preached Ďturn the other cheek,í you did it, and through that affliction you achieved things of incomprehensible worth.

Iím embarrassed to even mention my strange, intermittent attraction to imitating you in the way you embraced suffering. A little child pretending to be a brain surgeon would seem to have a better chance. What you accomplished through suffering is both unique and as high above me as the stars. Yet, no matter ridiculous it is, I sometimes canít stop myself warming to the thought of emulating, in some tiny way, what you achieved through suffering. The rational side of me almost despised my emotions for being so stupid until I recalled that you yourself spoke of taking up oneís cross and following you. Surely thatís talking about suffering that in some way mimics your own suffering. This concept canít be as offbeat as I had thought.

Iíve no idea what Paul was referring to when he wrote, ĎI rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christís afflictions . . .í (Colossians 1:24). If that were not part of your perfect Word Iíd have thought it almost blasphemy to imply that in any sense there is anything less than complete about your suffering for us. How could anything I suffer contribute to the immensity of what you achieve through suffering? Surely I could do no better than a two-year-old delighting in helping his hero Ė a muscly he-man Ė lift weights. Nevertheless, during these precious, intimate times you give me, I canít help thinking how wonderful it would be if you could somehow give me a slice of the action.

Since it so greatly affects my thinking on this matter, itís time I faced up to one of my weaknesses. I have almost concluded that you suffered down here so that we can avoid suffering down here. At first glance, the logic behind this theory is compelling. Moreover, it seems backed by the thrilling reality that you often intervene to deliver your children from sickness, hardship and disaster. I praise you for everyone you have raised up to inspire your people to receive astounding answers to prayer. I delight in the innumerable times you miraculously intervene in peopleís lives with physical blessings and I long to see you glorified in this way in a far greater measure than ever before.

I have discovered an unsettling thing about truth, however: it is usually complex, and humans often fall into confusion by our tendency to oversimplify. Without even realizing what we are doing, we tend to constrict our expectations of you by building an entire theory around what turns out to be a portion of your truth, rather than your full revelation. What confuses us is that even a mere sliver of your truth is usually exciting, whereas the full truth can initially seem bewildering. We fail to realize that the full truth, when accurately understood, is more wonderful still, because it displays even more of your perfect ways. Tragically, we fall so in love with our theories that we barely notice we have manipulated some of your Word to try to squeeze your revelation into the straightjacket of our presumptions. I shudder at my vulnerability to this tendency.

I desperately need to think more like you, Lord, or Iíll keep getting it wrong. You tell us not to be afraid; we are worth more than many sparrows and even the hairs on our head are numbered. And in the same breath you mention that we could be flogged and killed for your sake! (Matthew 10:17-39) I wonder how much I misread in your Word simply because your holy, eternal perspective is so different to mine. Again I make my oft-repeated plea: please alert me to my own blind spots.

We are so inspired by the exploits listed in the first half of the Faith Chapter Ė faith-powered deliverances from impossible situations Ė that our blinkers are firmly in place by the time we reach the second half Ė faith-powered endurance of horrific situations:

    Hebrews 11:35 . . . Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. (36) Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. (37) They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated Ė (38) the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. (39) These were all commended for their faith . . .

Just when it seems obvious where the chapter is heading, it slams into reverse. The apparent contradiction sends me reeling. Clearly, there are two types of faith miracles Ė miraculous escape and miraculous endurance Ė and either type can get one into Heavenís Hall of Fame.

The full, biblical truth on any subject seems like a dozen tennis balls, all of which I must hold if I am to really do things your way. I can keep a few of them in my arms but as I try to grasp still more, the ones I had been holding begin to spill out. To hold on to the lot seems impossible. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that holding the lot takes more effort than I have been prepared to make.

I am thrilled about the restoration of the truth that you are a miracle-working God who powerfully intervenes in our lives. As we begin to grasp this, however, we lose our grip on the truth that you also miraculously empower us to endure intolerable conditions. Before long, we who pride ourselves on the restoration of certain aspects of truth have let other parts of your truth so completely slip from our grasp that we end up with a different mix, but with no higher portion of the full truth than previous generations. We look down on Christians who do not hold the truths we have picked up, but in reality we have just as desperate a need of the truths we have let slip as they are in need of the truths we hold.

The last thing I want is to influence Christians to drop aspects of truth they have already grasped. I simply yearn for each of us to pick up still more of your truth. I wonder what astounding exploits a person could achieve if he or she could hold on to all of your truth at the one time. Oh, how I long to be such a person!

I cringe to finally admit to myself that I find it tempting to reduce you to a formula. In my early teens I used to wrestle with the question as to what type of faith you wanted. Was it enough just to believe that you could do whatever I was praying for, or did I need to believe you would do it? Eventually, Mark 11:24 settled the matter for me:

    Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
Thatís not merely believing that you have the power to do something, itís believing you will do that specific thing. Ever since discovering this, I have seen tacking Ďif it be your willí on to the end of my prayers as usually being a cop out. Uncertainty as to whether it is your will to grant a particular petition saps my prayer of the type of faith you tell us to have. It acknowledges your sovereignty but it excuses my unbelief. ĎIf it be your willí creates a loophole and most of faith drains through the hole. It can reduce faith to mere intellectual assent to a creed, rather than the type of faith that you commended in people you met in your earthly ministry.

For the most ignoble reason I find myself wanting to build an oversimplified view of your will. If your will is complex, then for genuine, believing prayer I will have to seek your face to determine your mind on each matter. I am so uncomfortable about seeking your will that I want to avoid it whenever I possibly can. Trying to hear from you frustrates me and makes me feel alone because so often you seem silent, or I fill with doubt as to whether it is really you. I want you to be so close, and my difficulty in hearing from you seems to highlight the distance between us. So I am strongly pressured to convince myself that your Word teaches that, except for his only Son, it is never Godís will that his loved ones suffer temporary hardship or pain. Then I often could instantly assume I know what your will is on any given matter. I could convince myself that I am praying correctly, while avoiding the frustration Ė I could almost say trauma Ė of seeking your will. I desperately need a breakthrough in this area, but right now I can at least admit to myself my bias when it comes to interpreting your Word.

Many Scriptures imply or specifically state that one aspect of your crucifixion is that by suffering you were providing us with an example to follow. In fact, one of these Scriptures, speaks of Christians being called to suffer (1 Peter 2:21; 1 Thessalonians 3:3; 1 Peter 4:19).

When weighing up your full revelation, I am forced to conclude that you embraced suffering, not so that we could wimp out, but so that we might be inspired to likewise embrace suffering. Of course, you suffered so that we might not suffer in the next life, but with regard to our life down here, you blazed a trail for us to follow. Just as suffering preceded your exaltation, so, through your triumph, our suffering must precede our exaltation. In the words of the great sufferer, Paul, Ďwe are heirs . . . of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory,í (Romans 8:17) and, ĎWe must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of Godí (Acts 14:22). This is fundamental Bible teaching that so easily slips from oneís grasp as we try to hold on to other, equally significant, Bible truths.

One of my countless reasons for loving you is locked in that Romans quote: Ďshare in his sufferings.í To suffer for you would be an immense honor, but the truth is even more amazing. We do not just suffer for you, but with you. When you suffered for our sins, Father God was forced to withdraw from you, since that is sinís most terrifying consequence. You had to bear the wrath of God so that we could enjoy the loving tenderness of God. When we suffer, however, not only do you not abandon us like you had to be abandoned, but you bind yourself to us and suffer with us. Iím even more staggered when I consider that, whereas you deserve endless bliss, any torment I could suffer would be less than the eternity in hell I deserve from the moment of my first sin, and yet you count my suffering for righteousness, not as what I deserve, but as reason for you showering me with honor.

I laugh as I recall my reaction years ago to you urging us in your Word to rejoice when trials come our way. I used to think you said this merely because you want us to honor you, and because rejoicing gives us a spiritual high that helps us through our problems. How could I have so completely missed the obvious? We should rejoice when trials come, simply because trials are something to rejoice about! If there were an equally beneficial, less painful alternative, then to suffer a trial would be to suffer unnecessary hardship. That would make a trial a tragedy Ė something to regret, not rejoice in. You urge us to rejoice when trials come, because difficult times are the best thing that could happen to us! And I presume that in your Word you were referring primarily to persecution more severe than most of us in the modern western world have ever known.

I likewise used to puzzle over why you let people struggle with besetting sin, even though you have proved over and over that you can instantly deliver anyone from the most powerful addiction, without a person even having to try. Then I discovered the startling truth that even temptation from the Evil One does us good! Taking from me all desire for sin might cause my actions to seem holy, but my heart would be as selfish as ever. I would still be doing whatever I felt like doing, as much as if I were enslaved by sin Ė it would simply be that I no longer felt like doing what had previously attracted me. I would know nothing about self-denial, even though this teaching was a central theme in your earthly ministry. Resisting sinís deceitful allure builds a deeper Christlikeness within us than could ever happen if we never found sin tempting. Sin never has a positive side, of course, but fighting sin and discovering the secrets of defeating it, makes us strong, even though at the time it is most unpleasant.

So hard, painful times are actually a surprise package of blessings, achieving wondrous things in our lives that nothing else could match. Thank you for making this so obvious in my life that eventually even I could see it. Only then did I re-examine the biblical context and discovered that the spiritual benefits of hard times were always the reason you gave for rejoicing in trials (Scriptures).

And again in your Word, you give us the most practical of reasons for leaping for joy when we suffer for our faith. You tell us that if we are persecuted, the enormity of our reward should be our reason for rejoicing (Scriptures). Itís like throwing a party because Iíve just been granted mining rights to the worldís richest gold deposit. Yes, for a while Iíll have to toil in a dark hole extracting the ore, but who cares? Riches are guaranteed!

This reminds me of your parable of the lucky man who found buried treasure. If he could raise the cash to buy the land, the treasure would be legally his. Parting with everything he owned would normally make him as miserable as a duck forced to put its feathers up for sale, but under these circumstances he could hardly contain his excitement. The most painful part was trying to keep a straight face so as not to raise suspicion before the deal was finalized.

In the age to come Iíll be barely able to restrain my joy for all eternity over any temporary earthly suffering I had previously embraced for righteousnessí sake. So I have every right to celebrate ahead of time.

Miracle-working faith is wonderful, but the faith to keep enduring hardship long before I hold the reward is just as great a spiritual achievement. I crave the faith that knows that you are the Master of the happy ending; the Creative Genius whose greatest delight is to flood his loved ones with inconceivable pleasures; the infinite Lord whose stupendous rewards are surpassed only by the matchless wonder of an eternity of knowing you deeper and deeper and deeper.

I bless you for every hardship you have ever allowed me to suffer. I long to thank you for my trials more than any Olympic medallist has ever thanked his coach for his rigorous training, and more than any academic achiever has thanked his teachers for challenging assignments. Your training schedules are perfect, and your goals for my life are breathtaking.

Your Word reveals that in your Hall of Fame are two types of heroes: those who through faith attained miraculous deliverances from tragedy, and those who through faith endured great suffering (Hebrews 11:32-38). Millions would queue up to share your inexhaustible joys but I sense there is more to a fulfilling life than this. There seems to be what I earlier called a missing element. It seems the height of intimacy and the heart of true love to seek the privilege of sharing your sorrows. I love the way the Apostle Paul expressed this longing. Everything that had previously been precious to him, he said, he now regarded as trash, in order that he might Ďknow Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings . . .í (Philippians 3:10). Sharing your joys is delightful, but what sweet fellowship there must be when you so open your heart that you let me share your pain.

Feeling a touch of romance about sharing your pain is what Iíd expect of some self-destructive nutcase, not me. And yet the feeling keeps sneaking up on me, and whenever it does it seems good and pure and right. Moreover, the apostles seemed to regard suffering for you as an immense honor granted only to the privileged (Acts 5:41). Immediately after being flogged we find them Ďrejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgraceí for you. If their attitude were mentioned only in church history books, Iíd have dismissed it as the delirium of crackpots, but itís there in your very Word. I gain the impression, in fact, that their attitude created such a cherished moment for you that, as it were, you took a snap shot and preserved it in your family album Ė the Bible Ė for all subsequent generations of your children to gaze at in reverent wonder.

Iíve detected just one more element to these occasional, sacred feelings that stir me. I know how much your own suffering has warmed my heart by confirming your love for me. I find myself becoming like a passionate lover desperate for the thrill of touching your heart and proving my love for you by enduring hardship for you. Your perfections leave me like a woman so in love with her man that she cannot stop herself longing to bear his children, even though she knows childbirth is painful, and childrearing necessitates sacrifice and irksome toil.

Others can have the fame, thrones and gold in heaven. How sad that there are people who know nothing greater! I care not whether your exquisite rewards be sensual delights, heavenly ecstasies or inconceivable blessings, everything is hollow, relative to the joy of touching your heart.

Sacrifice is the ecstasy of giving the best to the one you love the most. Years ago I read those words somewhere, and my spirit still leaps whenever I recall them.

Boundless, adoring love is the only appropriate response to the perfection of your love, and to everything about you. I donít want to give the Evil One the slightest cause to slander you and me by accusing you of having to resort to threats or bribes to secure my devotion. Were you to continually pamper me, shielding me from the unpleasant consequences of peopleís godlessness, how could either I or our enemies ever know if my love for you is genuine or whether I serve you merely out of a mercenary desire for the benefits? My love should be untainted by lesser motives because that alone is what you deserve. I long for my love for you to be as fervent and selfless as your love for me. I am called to be a witness and what more powerful witness could there be than how I handle hardship?

Surely any sensible person should recoil from the thought of suffering Ė and I certainly do in my sober moments. These feelings are so contrary to the normal me that they must truly come from you. You know they puzzle me intellectually, but what most disturbs me about positive feelings towards suffering is that these feelings are as yet untested by the fires of severe affliction. Anyone can be brave ahead of time. Right now, what frightens me is not pain but turning into a Simon Peter and dishonoring you at the critical moment. Your ghastly experience in Gethsemane highlights loveís limits as a painkiller. If the sweet warmth of a spiritual high deserted you when you must have most longed for it, I canít see this source of comfort remaining with me, either. But are you using the memory of those feelings as pointers to a spiritual reality that exists even when the feelings evaporate? Are you seeking to build within me an attitude to suffering that at critical times Iíll need grim willpower to cling to, but an attitude that will nonetheless help me persist during the bleakest part of the night?

With these feelings coming and going, I seem like someone standing on a clouded mountaintop. Everything looks dismal. I seem lost and alone. Occasionally you allow a break in the clouds that lets me see that on every side of me I am surrounded by the comfort and security of civilization. When the clouds return, bleak aloneness seems to return. The friendly warmth of civilization seems a million miles away, but in reality it has not moved. It might be out of sight, but Iím still close to help and companionship and all that I need. Iím as safe as ever.

Help me live not according to past deceptive feelings of abandonment and aloneness, nor by what I feel whenever the clouds return and the things that cheer me fade from sight. Instead, may I live according to my knowledge of what lies beyond the clouds.

Intellectually, I have a slight conception of how lovable you really are, but usually this remains a cold fact, rather than something that fires my heart. Emotionally, it is as if often you were nearly a stranger. I suppose this is largely because I donít often enough put in the effort to push through all the distractions to gaze on your beauty. The other factor is that faith, operating the opposite way to sight, mushrooms in the dark and wilts in the light. Faith is so critical to our spiritual development that you must ensure we have enough darkness to grow our faith.

On the precious moments I have been talking about, it is as if the shutter on the iron case around my heart cracks open. A ray of your light hits my dark heart, allowing it to respond to you with a glimmer of the exuberant passion my emotions would always feel if they truly knew you. In your light, my heart can suddenly pierce the murk to catch a tiny glimpse of reality for itself. For that brief moment, my heart is no longer forced to blindly resort to what I tell it is real. Instead of me having to continue my usual chore of dragging my emotions up towards the level of my intellectual understanding of spiritual reality, they at last are released to frolic in the wonder of what they see, and even to outpace my mental grasp of what exists beyond the clouds. In the warm light of your love, things like pain and hardship, turn out to be very different to what I had feared. It is like flicking a light switch to discover that what I had felt certain was an intruder about to harm me, is actually a friend come to help. Suffering might be more like a surgeon than a lover, but when yielded to you, suffering ends up so beneficial that when all is revealed Iíll spend eternity thanking you for what you achieved in my life through it. One Ďthank youí down here, however, is worth a million later, so I pray Iíll do my best to shower you with thanks before the blessings become so obvious that thanking you becomes little better than a spontaneous reaction to the uncontrollable joy you give me. I want to thank you while my thanks can still touch your heart as a demonstration of trust, rather than a mere response to the obvious.

All too soon, the shutter around my heart snaps shut again. Once more I am forced to muster faith and try to coax forward the confused, frightened children that my emotions have reverted to.

* * *

There is much suffering that I certainly donít want Ė every trace of hardship that I could avoid if I were more devoted to you. Iíd be a fool to endure any hardship when its avoidance would bring you greater honor. There is no glory in me suffering the consequences of my own sin. If, however, I were so foolish as to sin, I would prefer any suffering that results, if the experience makes me more resistant to further foolishness. I recall the psalmist praising you for his anguish. ĎBefore I was afflicted I went astray,í he sang, Ďbut now I obey your wordí (Psalm 119:67). Affliction is better than going astray. Better still, of course, is to be so faithful that I have no need to be so dramatically jolted out of my complacency. Neither do I want any suffering I could have missed had I not been too lazy or doubting or confused by wrong theology to press through in believing prayer or spiritual warfare. That, too, would be foolish. I recall the webpage I wrote years ago, ĎThe Role of Sickness in Your Life,í in which I explored many surprising benefits associated with sickness. Nevertheless, despite the many good things that can result from sickness, I concluded that we should still seek you for healing.

Whatever was Paulís Ďthorn in the flesh,í it was certainly unpleasant. The apostle identified this suffering as being from Satan and yet it proved an enormous blessing by protecting him from the grave spiritual danger of pride. Like Paul, I would long to be spared such suffering, but even for the great apostle the spiritual danger was so great that there was no safe alternative. Iíd prefer not to have a spiritual weakness that needs suffering to keep it in check, but avoiding spiritual hazards is far more important than avoiding temporary unpleasantness.

Years of emotional pain have given me such a sensitivity to other peopleís needs and has in so many ways empowered me to minister to hurting people that Iím most grateful for what I have suffered. You are such a genius at turning even my weaknesses and mistakes into something magnificent that it becomes hard to imagine a better way. Nevertheless, Iíve wondered whether I could have enjoyed these benefits with less suffering had I voluntarily done more to foster tenderness and compassion within me. Spare me needless pain, Lord, but do not spare me pain that furthers your cause.

Many things I could suffer, however, are not related to my inadequacies or lack of faith. Could it be that through the occasional feelings you give, you are seeking to assure me that, when yielded to you with Christlike dedication, these forms of suffering can be beautiful Ė even when the pain is so intense that it obliterates every gooey feeling and every awareness of your presence? Like a little, girl-hating boy growing into a young man ready for love, may I shed my former, childish view of suffering, and like a butterfly set free from the limitations of a grub, may I soar with you to unexpected joys.

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Oh, how I love you! My indebtedness to you is beyond calculation. Seeing my chronic predicament, you gave your life so that I could have the heart transplant essential for my eternal survival. Now you have not only given me your heart, you have called me to the honor of following in the steps of your nail-pierced feet Ė calling me to plunge through all the shame and pain hurled upon you and upon me by enemies of God, and emerging to rule with you in endless majesty.

Radiant King of kings, not only have you triumphantly burst through pain and death to regain your rightful throne and win new honors as well, you have returned to this grief-stricken planet. Abandoning the carefree ease that is your right, you elect to endure still more anguish Ė my anguish Ė by living in me, to bring me to glory Ė the endless glory of your hard-won victory.

Thank you that because you have won, Iíll win. Because the God you trusted has taken your pain and shame and turned it into the power to comfort and transform lives, youíll take anything I suffer and turn it into a blessing for others and eternal honor for myself. Truly, you are my hero. You lead me into victory. In you I am complete.

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The webpage preceding this one: Part 1

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Related Pages

If Anyone has Reason to Hate God, Itís Sue

Godís execution of justice on behalf of those who have suffered

Why Bad Things Keep Happening to Some People

Jesus, Our Brother, Our Example

Lifeís Mysteries Explained

Why Christís Suffering can Change your Life

From Mystery to Ministry: The Role of Sickness in Your Life

Why Would a God of Love Allow Suffering?

Afraid? Help and Inspiration When Gripped by Fear

Pain


Discovering Godís Love For You

How Much Does God Love Me? How to Get Your Own Revelation of Godís Love


Personalized support

E-mail Grantley Morris, the author of these webpages: healing@net-burst.net


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Not to be sold. © Copyright 2002, Grantley Morris. May be freely copied in whole or in part provided: it is not altered; this entire paragraph is included; readers are not charged; if used in a webpage, the new page is significantly different to this one. Many more compassionate, inspiring, sometimes hilarious writings available free online at www.net-burst.net  Freely you have received, freely give.
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