Monday, November 2, 2020

Surprised by Suffering

"Our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort" (2 Corinthians 1:7)

Hospital workers and medical practitioners tell us that when a life-threatening disease strikes people, the first response is usually surprise. We know full well that many people die from cancer and other diseases, or are struck down by other means, but God’s gift of life to us is so strong and powerful that we aren’t ready for it when it happens to us. We are surprised by suffering when it comes.

Anti-Christian philosophers have often thrown at Christianity this argument: If God is all-powerful and wholly good, why does He allow people to suffer? The answer to this question is that God is always present with His people when He sends the surprise of suffering into their lives. God uses suffering as a way to make us become more dependent upon Him than ever before. If suffering were not a surprise to us, we would not immediately cry out to God; instead, we would proceed on with our lives the same as always. It is just because suffering is a surprise that it gets our attention and forces us to put our trust in Him.

First Peter 4 tells us not to be surprised at suffering. An initial surprise and horror at bad news is not what he is writing about, but rather a continual surprise and rejection of the suffering God sends our way. Suffering, he says, is not something strange. It is part of the life of God’s people. We must come to grips with it and see God’s gracious hand in it.

Such words as these are of help, but what is of most help to people who are suffering is the knowledge that other people care for them. Most often, the touch of a caring hand counts for more than a sermon on the value of suffering. In this way, as Luther said, each of us must be Christ to our neighbor. God is present with us when we suffer, and we know this by faith. To make God’s presence real to people, we must imitate Him by being present with others when they suffer. As the Scriptures say, those are Christlike who visit widows and orphans in their distress, who visit the sick and imprisoned.

Often, though, we flee from those in distress, partly because it is unpleasant, but mostly because their suffering makes us uncomfortable. It reminds us that we, too, may be called to suffer.

Do you know someone who is suffering? Have you missed an opportunity to be present with him or her? God does not ask you to go and speak some magic words. He only asks you to go and let them know that you care for them. Don’t let opportunities to show Christ to your neighbor pass you by.