Does that sound strange to our modern ears? “The doctrine of suffering”? It might if we are used to thinking that God is bound to prosper us and cause us to live in ever-greater abundance — on this earth. It might if we are used to thinking that things going “smoothly” is a sure sign of our being in God’s will. And it might if we are used to seeking “signs,” “a feeling of peace,” and “a sense of conviction” to know whether or not we are doing God’s will. If we have been in the habit of thinking in those ways, then we will consequently assume that hardship must be the result of “missing” God’s will for our lives. But, the Bible teaches something different.
Though hardship MAY INDEED be a sign that we are in disobedience to God’s will, it is not ALWAYS.
Let me be even more specific: If we obey God by NOT using birth control and by surrendering our bodies completely to Him as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1), why do we think we will never have trouble? Why do we think, if we do start to have trouble, that we might not be doing God’s will? WHY do we determine our level of obedience based upon our situation and our feelings, instead of on the timeless Word of God? Because the truth is, obedience is NOT a guarantee of comfort or success (speaking in worldly terms)! To the contrary, obedience may be accompanied by tests, fiery trials, and valleys of the shadow of death. Because of this, we must be ABSOLUTELY sure of God’s will by knowing what His Word says. We cannot trust in a “sense of conviction” or a “strong feeling” we had during prayer! We cannot — and should not! — claim that “God spoke to me” when we heard not an audible voice, but instead had a feeling. And, even if we did hear a “voice,” the only way to know if it was God’s is to be absolutely ruthless in comparing it to the Bible! Satan can lie to us. Our feelings can lie to us. And our feelings are subjective and will not sustain us through the toughest and most painful experiences we may be called upon to endure.
Let’s take a look at what the Bible says about suffering:
“Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but ALSO to the harsh [!!!] For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were CALLED, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:” [emphasis added]
1 Peter 2:18-21
These verses refer to suffering because of a harsh master. Later, the passage moves on to talk about wives being submissive to their own husbands, EVEN IF their husbands don’t obey God (how would a man act who is disobedient to God? — he would probably not be a very good husband or father, but God says to submit to him anyway). It looks to me, that if we are told to obey those in authority over us WHETHER OR NOT they treat us well, then it makes sense to conclude that God does not expect us to obey Him only when we feel like it, only when we’re “fulfilled” and “happy” and “stable,” but even when things are looking poorly for us. Obedience is not based on circumstances; it is based on doing what God says. Period.
“Beloved, DO NOT THINK IT STRANGE concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified . . . Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator. [emphasis added]
1 Peter 4:12-14, 19
“In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I [Jesus] have overcome the world.”
John 16:33b [emphasis added]
Jesus guaranteed we would have tribulation. When we suffer — if it is a result of our obedience — we suffer “according to the will of God.” Let me say that again: It is sometimes God’s WILL for us to suffer! Furthermore, when we suffer, we are to rejoice, because we “partake of Christ’s sufferings.” Hardship should draw us closer to Christ; it should help us identify with His sufferings and understand with greater clarity His great love for us. When we suffer, “the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon [us].” Isn’t it wonderful to think that instead of distancing us from God, hardships actually draw us closer to Him?
There are many examples in the Bible of godly people who suffered — when they had done nothing wrong: Joseph. David. Elijah. The prophets who prophesied the destruction of Israel and Judah. John the Baptist. Jesus. Paul. If we think we are better than they — if we think we can somehow escape tribulation even though they didn’t — we’re wrong. They are perfect examples of people who did what was right, and then were “punished” for it; but, they didn’t allow their circumstances to deter them from doing God’s will.
Ladies, what about us?
Pregnancy is hard and so is labor. Caring for multiple children is stressful sometimes. Husbands can be grumpy and so can we. Life throws unexpected difficulties at us . . . and we wonder: Am I doing God’s will? Should we keep on having more children?
The problem is that we don’t search the Scriptures to know the truth; we search our own hearts. We search other people’s opinions. We try to predict the future ourselves. We make our circumstances the navigator for our lives instead of God’s clear Word. But, if we would take the time to scrutinize the Bible to see what it has to say about having children, there is no doubt: children come from God and conception is a gift, no matter what the situation. You don’t believe me? Test it. Read the Bible and see what it has to say on this topic. I have to warn you, though: many people say they’ve already done this, when in actuality, they’ve only picked a few verses taken out of context to support their weak position.
If suffering should be considered a normal part of life, does that mean we are to go about sour-faced and solemn all the time? No! God says to “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). In the Psalms, David is very honest about his sufferings; he doesn’t deny them in order to pretend that “everything is just fine.” However, instead of allowing his circumstances to enslave him in depression, he makes the conscious choice to use them as a reason to turn his eyes — yet again — to God for comfort and support. He praises God for His faithfulness and His love! He thanks Him for the salvation that David is confident will be soon in coming. He trusts in God’s goodness and justice. He does not say: “Maybe I was wrong to trust in God. Maybe I should have taken matters into my own hands and killed Saul when I had the chance, in order to defend myself.” No, he stuck by his convictions even when it was anything but convenient. He knew that obeying God would prove best — in the end.
And he sang joyfully to the Lord in the meantime!
Now to get personal. I haven’t been through much of what could be termed “suffering.” I live in the USA and have a fridge, a stove, indoor plumbing, central heating and cooling, a 12-passenger van, a cell phone, a computer, plenty of food, and plenty of clothes. However, my life is not always comfortable. As I’ve mentioned before, being pregnant is never easy. You’ve heard the honesty; now, let me show you the other side of things: the comfort.
I have the best husband in the whole world! I tell him this often. I really cannot imagine that any other woman’s husband could possibly be better (sorry, I know you all love your husbands, too). He makes me a snack early in the morning before he leaves for work at around 4:30, since he knows I’ll need it before getting out of bed. He will go to the store to pick up anything I crave — orange juice, toaster strudels, donuts, roasted chicken, whatever. He cooks dinner for me (the smells make me nauseous), and helps put the children to bed. I could go on and on. And he does all of it with a loving, patient attitude! My husband is God’s channel of comfort for me.
My wonderful children are another channel of comfort. The older ones help with their younger siblings by getting together easy meals, cleaning up messes, playing with them, and helping them with their schoolwork, when necessary.
I understand that not every woman has an understanding husband, and not every woman has cooperative children (mine are not perfect little angels, either, just to let you know). In that case, perhaps God’s channel of comfort will come through another route: family members, friends, other believers, special help agencies, etc. If we want to be comforted, first of all, we must believe in God and in His Son; and second of all, we must ask. Even though God loves everybody, and rains His pleasant showers upon both the just and the unjust, for us to receive the full benefit of His help, we must surrender ourselves to His Lordship. Why is there so much suffering in the world? Much of it is caused by unbelievers acting like unbelievers, doing wrong things and hurting other people. God does not reward injustice! But, when we do what is right, God will reward that. He may not take away all the hard stuff; but, He will certainly help us through it in one way or another. And, we must ask — we must pray:
“Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.”
Part of “asking” may include asking for help from others, too. We can’t hang on to our pride so much that we refuse to seek help when we need it. It’s okay to need help. As believers in Christ, we are part of a body; we were never meant to live life all on our lonesome — we were meant to support and encourage each other! Perhaps, if a believer has troubles (such as problems related to taking care of a lot of children), it is God’s will for other believers to step in and be His hands of help to that person. Instead of criticizing that person for “being irresponsible” and needing help and not being able to manage all on her own, other believers should see those problems as a chance to strengthen the body of Christ! I am NOT saying that men shouldn’t provide for their own families; they should. I am NOT saying that women shouldn’t do their best to care for their own children; they should. I am just saying that life has “tribulations,” as Jesus said it would, and that we need to be there to comfort each other through them, instead of condemning others for “having too many children.” There is no such thing as “too many children,” since all children come from God. If we are going to “blame” anybody, let’s put the “blame” where it belongs — and “blame” God! But let’s leave His obedient creatures alone.
Another source of suffering in this world comes from our enemy, Satan. He hates God, and he hates those who believe in God. There is a battle going on for our souls, and Satan will do all he can to ensure our souls will be destroyed in hell, whichever way possible. He sometimes uses suffering, and he sometimes uses a lack of suffering: he uses suffering to get people to curse God, and he uses a lack of suffering to get people to be complacent and feel that they don’t need God. So, we see that a lack of suffering is not ALWAYS a sign that we are “in God’s will.” The only way to be sure we are in God’s will is by relying on His Word.