Decades ago, when I was still young in my wheelchair, I was excited about all the things I was learning about God.
The more I learned about him, the more I wanted to pass the insights on to other people who were struggling through hardships. I even wrote a book about it, listing reason after reason as to “why God allows suffering.” I detailed as many spiritual benefits from suffering as I could think of: how it refines our faith, develops self-control, exposes sin, makes us dependent on God, teaches us to follow the Word, helps us empathize with other hurting people, binds Christians together, and fosters humility. And that’s just scratching the surface.
Now, these are all true and good benefits of suffering, but years later when I started to struggle with chronic pain—and later, battled cancer— the overwhelming weight of my suffering seemed to far exceed any benefit that might result.
To make sense of my suffering, I had to go a lot deeper and ask, “What good could possibly be worth overwhelming pain and agony?”
I’ll answer that question with an analogy: imagine that a little boy hops on his bicycle, races down a hill, and at the bottom when he turns the corner, he loses control on loose gravel and crashes to the asphalt. His knee begins to bleed, and his wailing alerts his father. What would we think of his daddy if he came and stood over his son and listed all the reasons as to why the boy is hurting and bleeding?
What would we think if he said, “Now, son, your speed was excessive as you began the trajectory of your turn. The loose gravel has accumulated here because of the rains. Your knees weren’t protected by knee pads.” Those might be true reasons for why the son sports a bloody knee, but that’s not what the child needs. The boy wants his daddy to pick him up, pat-pat him on the back, and soothingly say, “Everything is going to be okay, Daddy’s here.”
When we suffer, we want God to be like that; we want a kind and compassionate Daddy.That’sour fundamental cry. We want him to be in the middle of our pain. And the good news? God is!
Like a good father, God gives us himself through the grace of Jesus Christ and the presence of his Spirit.
Every one of the good reasons I wrote about in my book decades ago are meant to point us to our kind and loving God. Because of Jesus Christ, he picks us up, holds us close, and assures us that everything is going to be okay. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us in our suffering.
He says in Isaiah 41:10 “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
I’ve experienced God’s comfort in this way. I cannot begin to describe the sweetness of my Savior’s presence when I feel the crunch of my affliction. Suffering, like nothing else, has shown me the goodness of the Father. Oh, I hope you’ll take the time to view this video where I talk about my book Songs of Sufferingand all I’ve gained in my suffering.
I could end this here, but I want to share one of those reasons I learned early on concerning God’s motives in permitting suffering.
Hebrews 2:10 states: “In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God… should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.”
In other words, if God is to bring us to glory—and he is, he will—then he’ll do with us as he did with Jesus. He’ll make us like Christ as he makes us holy through suffering.
If Jesus, the author of our salvation, was made perfect through his many afflictions, it is fitting that we should be also. We are being made holy for heaven.
And as the old Puritan said, “just two minutes in heaven will more than offset, it’ll compensate for all the pain and suffering we struggled with on earth.”
So, I don’t want to waste my suffering in the here-and-now. I want it to purify my heart from sin, strengthen my faith, and get me ready for as much eternal joy as possible. And who knows? Maybe when I arrive, Jesus will hold me close, pat-pat me on the back, and say, “There, there; everything’s okay now, you are home, you are safe, I’m here with you for always.”
After more than 55 years living with quadriplegia and chronic pain, Joni Eareckson Tada knows what it means to “press on” through suffering. Joni encourages you to join her in living out Philippians 3:14: “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”