For God has no need to consider a man further, that he should go before God in judgment.
- Job 34:21-23
Suffering. It's not a word we look at in a positive light. It conjures up pain, torment, mental anguish and other negative thoughts which we wish to avoid. Yet like it or not, suffering is a very important part of our faith as Christians. Our Savior suffered horribly before and during His time on the Cross awaiting earthly death, and He tells us in the Scripture that following Him will result in us having to suffer as well. Of course, people who don't follow Him suffer also and often we believe it is a punishment for what they have done. But in the case of true Christian believers, suffering is not just associated with sin, sometimes it is foisted upon us as a test of our faithfulness and willingness to suffer for Him. After all, if the gift of Eternal Life is available for our belief, should we expect life to be easy since He suffered so much for us?
When it comes to suffering as discussed in the Bible, no case is more demonstrative than the life of a man who lived before Jesus' time, Job. Job was a godly man, a man who was wealthy and used his money and riches for good, helping the poor and widows at every turn, sharing his bounty and trying to live his life in total consonance with God's wishes.
But when satan (I never recognize him with capitalization of his name) told God that he could torment him into blaspheming God, God allowed him to work his way, but not to the point of death. So Job lost his riches, his home, his huge flocks of animals and all of his children and even his wife told him to curse God and die. And his health deteriorated as he was covered from head to toe with painful lesions and sores that put him in total agony.
While Job was angry, asking God to explain why he allowed this to happen and his friends told him he must have committed major sins, Job stuck to his guns, never hardening his heart to God, just frustrated because he wanted answers. All turned out well for him in the end as his wealth was restored and he began a new family. But it could just as well have ended up not so, yet it wouldn't mean that God had banished him. Like it or not, God will work His will as He wishes, we don't have to know the answers we are just expected to trust Him.
And many generations later, after Jesus' life, resurrection and return to heaven, suffering continued. The case of Stephen in the picture above, a young missionary who went about spreading the Word of the Good News, is another example of where a believer, a young man with a full life ahead of him, chose to die for the Savior rather than give up his belief and his cause. And even today, it is what He expects of us if He call us to do so.
Are there positive aspects to a suffering experience which can be helpful in making our relationship with the Living God more personal and real? There absolutely are, especially when we turn to God for understanding, when we are open to God for help, when we ask him questions, when we are preparing to help others who are suffering and when we are ready to learn from Him. Suffering develops perseverance and perseverance develops patience and patience is critical to having a solid relationship with God for remember, He works according to His own timetable, not ours. But he is always working and the more you work to connect to Him in a way where you truly understand what the Lord Jesus went through for us, the stronger that connection will be. Open your hearts and let the Holy Spirit infect you with God's love and accept His grace. You'll be glad you did and you'll never forget it. It will be an everlasting experience.