Many reasons for death are given to those who have lost someone close to them. Some of these reasons, while well intentioned, do not provide any comfort. Most often, people suffering through the loss of a loved one or friend are not ready to have legitimate answers given until later. There are helpful reasons, however, to give to someone when their suffering may seem so senseless.We suffer as a result of living in a fallen world. (Matthew 5:45)
Just because one is a Christian does not preclude suffering. Because of sin, the entire universe suffers and as a part of that universe and God?s fallen creation, we are just as likely to suffer as a non-believer. The key difference: our dependence upon God in the midst of the suffering.
Suffering is a witness to others. (2 Tim 2:8-11)
When we suffer and maintain our faith in Christ, it is a powerful testimony to others of the value of our faith.
Suffering pushes us toward one another. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
No one would choose pain and suffering. But when there is no choice, there remains some consolation. Natural disasters and times of crisis have a way of bringing us together. Hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, riots, illnesses, accidents and death all have a way of bringing us to our senses. Think about 9/11, or hurricane Katrina, for instance. We remember our own mortality and that people are more important than things. We remember that we do need one another and that, above all, we need God. Each time we discover God’s comfort in our own suffering, our capacity to help others is increased.
It helps us to identify and comfort those who are suffering. (2 Cor. 1:3-5)
Who to better identify with one who suffers than one suffering as well? There is something powerful about “walking the same road” as another. We actually know how they feel and what they are experiencing.
It keeps our pride in check. (2 Cor. 12:7)
Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” helped him maintain the proper perspective. Suffering brings us to reality and reminds us of our own weakness apart from the help of a higher power.
We suffer as a result of having the freedom to choose. (Genesis 2:15-17)
Loving parents long to protect their children from unnecessary pain. But wise parents know the danger of over-protection. They know that the freedom to choose is at the heart of what it means to be human, and that a world without choice would be worse than a world without pain. The philosophical question: is freedom worth the price? At times of deep grief, we may question whether it is or not.
Suffering serves as a fertile training ground for those suffering. (1 Pet. 1:6; Jam. 1:2-4)
It builds character and allows us to develop skills needed for times of suffering and loss later in life.
Loss and suffering helps prune undesirable things from our lives. (John 15)
This includes various weaknesses, sins of ignorance, and immature attitudes. The production of fruit (instead of dead material that holds us back) is the goal.
Trials test our faith and cause us to depend upon God and what He is trying to say to us. (Ps. 119:71, 92; 1 Pet. 1:6)
Through it, we sincerely learn to wait upon Him.
Suffering causes us to examine our faith and loyalty to that faith. (Heb. 5:8)
Obedience can come with a high price and is often difficult, especially when we are suffering loss. We are forced to examine our lives…and our faith, knowing that God somehow is using this for our ultimate good.
We suffer in order to broaden our ministries. (Philippians 1:12-14 with 4:5-9)
In the process of producing Christian character and enhancing our testimony to others, suffering often opens up doors for ministry we could never have imagined. Paul?s imprisonment (chained daily to Roman soldiers in his own house) resulted in the spread of the gospel within the elite imperial praetorian guard. The Apostle was undoubtedly continuing to rejoice in the Lord, but if he had been bitter, his witness would have been ineffective. (My own personal experience has opened the door to develop a grief course to be taught at a Bible College in Swazi, South Africa, for instance). Allow God to use your suffering for His glory and to expand you own ministry.
Suffering helps us to see eternity with a new perspective. (Romans 8:18-19)
If death is the end of everything, then a life filled with suffering is not fair. But if the end of this life brings us to the threshold of eternity, then the most fortunate people in the universe are those who discover, through suffering, that this life is not all we have to live for. Those who find themselves and their eternal God through suffering have not wasted their pain.
Future articles will discuss both practical and impractical things to do in order to help those grieving.
Roland Cavanaugh is on staff at a large church serving as the Pastor of Congregational Care and Sr. Adults. He has self-published a book about his late father, “For As Long As I Can.” You can find ordering information at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1597816515/ref=cm_plog_item_link/102-2861005-6918529?
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