Are You Suffering?

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.

James 5:13

I recently had the blessing of seeing an old friend. It had been a while since we had seen each other since he lives on a different continent. We had both gathered together at a conference where the theme was HOPE. My friend taught one of the breakout sessions and so I decided to attend.

It was a joy to see him prior to the teaching, but the greater joy came from his teaching on SUFFERING. Suffering is such a peculiar subject. It’s often classified as an unfortunate event. Its existence is frequently reduced to bad luck, so it has no purpose. Wrong place at the wrong time, you know, that kind of thing. But where is God in the midst of suffering?

Within evangelical circles Christians are often quick to acknowledge that God is SOVEREIGN, but do we really believe that? It sounds nice to say. We wouldn’t want to be accused of heresy by disagreeing. But if God is sovereign, and I believe that He is, then how does His sovereignty fit with my suffering?

If God is sovereign, consequently, everything has purpose, even my suffering (Prov. 19:21). But what if God is sovereign and yet unloving? That could explain why suffering happens and why it happens to me. He has a purpose for it, He doesn’t love me, therefore He allows me to suffer. But the idea that God is unloving is foolish. Love is of God’s essence (1 John 4:7). God is just as much love as He is sovereign. And if He’s sovereign and loving, He must also be good. And if He’s good, and loving, & sovereign, then my suffering serves a purpose for my good because He loves me and is able to allow it because He’s sovereign (Romans 8:28).

I’m sitting here at day 12 of 14, having received a notification from my employer that I was being surplused. That notification came as a surprise. I thought I was a top performer. Many of my colleagues acknowledge me as such. I thought I had a diverse set of skills and experience that others in my organization don’t. I even have a college degree and speak another language, but that’s not enough. I’ve sat and have tried to rationalize, “why me?” The team stats don’t indicate I’m at the bottom. It just doesn’t make sense.

Things didn’t make sense for my friend when he found out he had a tumor on his spine. He was pastoring a church. Had a small family, was the sole bread winner of the home. His church loved him and they were growing in Christ under his teaching. One surgery wouldn’t be enough, but two, and yet it would be months before he walked or could eat without a straw or get back to shepherding the church. Many grueling nights of pain, a swollen neck & throat, unable to swallow his saliva, and almost two years later he doesn’t have complete feeling in his left hand or leg, but yet he sees that his suffering has been for good. 

Seems confusing doesn’t it? Doesn’t make much sense. In those consequential moments of pain & loss it seldom ever does. It becomes harder when it seems like the window of hope continues to gradually close. For me, it’s one notification and then another telling me that I’m no longer being considered as a candidate for other jobs I’ve applied for. What is it for you?

Over the past two weeks I’ve come to learn that I don’t need to try and understand what I can’t control. No amount of rationalization or statistics can explain why I was chosen to be let go. It’s in these moments that I’m reminded of the Puritan Thomas Manton, who said, “A soldier’s worth isn’t truly known in times of peace.” For the Christian, the depth of our faith in Christ isn’t truly known until it’s tested. It’s in the moment of despair, uncertainty, and loss that we are confronted with the question, “Do I really trust God?” Do I believe He’s sovereign? Do I believe that He’s good? Do I believe that He loves me? As life appears to change with loss of employment on the horizon, I can say, that by God’s grace, “Yes! I trust Him.” I pray that you can too.

But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me. – Micah 7:7

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