I have a friend who shall remain nameless (except her name rhymes with Cindy and starts with an M). We share the same sarcastic sense of humor. We can get by with saying things to each other that we’d never say to anyone else (she once sent me a get well card that asked if she could have my stuff when I died!).
The other day, I received some upsetting health news and I shared it with her. Her response was priceless and made me laugh out loud:
“God loves me more than he loves you.”
It was the perfect thing to say. I needed a good chuckle.
But, as the day went on I realized that she had hit dangerously close to how I’d been feeling lately.
I have been battling chronic illness for almost fifteen years now. When you spend that length of time being sick every day it is easy to fall into the trap of feeling that God must not love you as much as he loves other people.
There are whole sects that preach this mentality. If you’re living right, you will receive riches and blessings beyond your wildest imagination. And, if life throws you a curve, you must have done something to displease God. It’s sadly an easy thing to believe.
Of course, sometimes we really are being chastised (the Bible is full of examples of this). So, it’s always a good idea to search our hearts and souls and do some “housecleaning”.
But, the Bible is also full of other reasons for suffering.
Sometimes we suffer to bring other people to God.
A good example of this was Lazarus’s illness and death. Jesus loved Lazarus but when told about his illness, he did not rush to his bedside to heal him. Instead he waited and said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s son may be glorified through it.” John 11:4. There were many Jews gathered with Mary and Martha to mourn Lazarus and because Jesus allowed his sickness and death and ultimate resurrection, it is said in John 11:45 – “Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.”
That is certainly an honorable reason for suffering.
Sometimes, suffering teaches us humility as Paul said in II Corinthians 12:7-10 – “ … Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (NIV)
I really need to tattoo this somewhere on my body as a reminder!
Suffering also teaches us patience: “Wait for the Lord’s help. Be strong and brave, and wait for the Lord’s help.” Psalm 27:14
I’m not great with the whole patience thing. Although in my defense, it has been fifteen years.
What I tend to forget is that God’s love and suffering can coexist. God certainly loved his son Jesus Christ and yet he was not spared suffering. Likewise Job suffered more than I ever have (although in very dark moments I sometimes liken myself to him). My goal is to be able to say, as Job did: “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” Job 23:10
The Bible is full of examples of people God loved dearly who were allowed to suffer. A Bible scholar I admire once said,
“Suffering is actually a well-worn path for God’s favorites.”
Wow. That is a powerful statement. But, trust me when I say that I don’t feel like a favorite. Believe me when I say that as more and more of my body parts become diseased I struggle with feeling abandoned and bereaved. And, know that even though I’m armed with all these amazing examples, I still cry out to God and ask him why.
I may never get an answer to that question down here. And so, I will cling to this promise:
“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away.” Revelation 21:4
I look forward to it.