Pain and suffering. Two of the nastiest and ugliest words in all the English language. Those who have experienced these realities know exactly how dark and dreary life can seem. They might cry out to God but still feel a sense of hopelessness. And that’s alright. We have all experienced low points in our lives. It’s no fun, I assure you. If not for those two little words, life would be pure bliss, right?
Well, maybe. Even if that were true, that is not the world in which we find ourselves. That is not our current reality. This life affords us with ample opportunity for both pain and suffering.
Perhaps you’ve heard the story about the little boy who, on a hot summer day in south Florida, decided to go for a swim in the old swimming hole that was behind his house. In a hurry to dive into the cool water, he ran out the back door, leaving behind shoes, socks, and shirt as he went. He flew into the water, not realizing that as he swam toward the middle of the lake, an alligator was swimming toward the shore. In the house, his mother was looking out the window.
She saw the two as they got closer and closer together. In utter fear, she ran toward the water, yelling to her son as loudly as she could. Hearing her voice, the little boy became alarmed, and made a U-turn to swim to his mother. It was too late. Just as he reached her, the alligator reached him. From the dock, the mother grabbed her little boy by the arms, just as the alligator snatched his legs. That began a very incredible tug-of-war between the two. The alligator was much stronger than the mother, but the mother was much too passionate to let go.
A farmer happened to drive by, heard her screams, raced from his truck, took aim, and shot the alligator. Remarkably, after weeks and weeks in the hospital, the little boy survived. His legs were extremely scarred by the vicious attack of the animal. On his arms, there were deep scratches where his mother’s fingernails dug into his flesh in her effort to hang on to the son she loved. The newspaper reporter, who interviewed the boy after the trauma, asked the boy if he would show him his scars.
The boy lifted his pant legs. Then, with obvious pride, he said to the reporter, “But look at my arms. I have great scars on my arms, too. I have them because momma wouldn’t let go.”
You and I can identify with that little boy. We too have scars. Not from an alligator, but the scars of a painful past or the scars of pain and suffering, unwanted and unexpected. Some of those scars are unsightly, and have caused us deep regret. But, some wounds, my friend, are because God has refused to let go. In the midst of your struggle for joy, He’s been right there, holding on to you.
The Bible makes clear we are to live our lives with joy and praise. “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice” (Phil. 4:4). But this command is not always easy, especially for someone who is suffering. But there is hope for the hurting heart—that much Scripture makes clear. Suffering can be ameliorated through the gift of prayer, fellowshipping with believers, forgiveness, confession, Bible study, counseling, and, not allowing ourselves to be absorbed in ourselves. Sometimes focusing our inward troubles and casting them outward toward Christ can resolve pain and suffering. But even with these things, each of us must still wrestle with the reality of the suffering that grips at us and wears us down. It can be, for some, a daily struggle against the powers of this world.
When you find yourself in the middle of a great struggle for joy and happiness, remember these simple points.
God Is Temperate
The Lord will, at times, bring a certain measure of pain and suffering to press His point. Nevertheless, in the midst of administering pain and suffering God always tempers justice with mercy. No pain and suffering is ever as full or as intense as it could be. He does not give us more than we are able to bear.
It’s for A Greater Good
Remember the words of Jesus when He taught that pain and suffering shall be part of the journey into grace for His disciples. “And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved” (Matt. 10:18–22).
The apostles also expressed the same truth by teaching that believers must persevere through faith and “must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
This one is admittedly the hardest to keep in mind. Yet, it was given to us by God, through the hand of the apostle, for a specific reason—because it’s true, and it ushers in the joy and happiness we so desperately seek. God wants us to give “thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20).
Learn the Lessons
Nothing happens to us apart from the sovereign hand of God and for a specific reason. Learn the spiritual lessons of life that God brings to mind through pain and suffering such as divine faithfulness. And, in so doing, God promises never to leave us or forsake us (Heb. 13:5).
I do not claim these things are easy. They are anything but easy. Pain and suffering are real and tangible and are something we all struggle with continually. But in the midst of that existential struggle, Paul reminds us “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10). The pain of our experiences in this life can hardly be put into words. The psalmist wrote some of the most beautiful poetry during his time as a direct result of great pain and suffering, yet he remained faithful to God, crying out to Him. Extraordinary pain and suffering are anything but joy and happiness, but the believer can trust in this promise. There will come a day when pain and suffering as we know it and experience it will be no more. God will wipe away all our tears; and there will be no more death, or sorrow, or crying, neither will there be any more pain; the former things will pass away (Rev. 21:4).