Imagine your enemy or someone you despise. You could have become the same as them. That’s right, the person causing you grief right now could have easily been you. In Batman: The Killing Joke, the Joker says all it takes is one bad day to affect the rest of your life. It’s what you do afterward that shapes the rest of your life.
We were at a party for my goddaughter, and I took a minute to walk into our old home. The home where my godson died. Though it had been remodeled, it didn’t prevent the flashback. Both sights and sounds. My heart jumped for a moment and calms down as I walk out.
I watch family take pictures of the cake, but my mind is elsewhere. It’s to another person, who faced their own tragedy, their own ‘one bad day’.
One Bad Day
Before our respective bad days, we were much alike. Both full of ourselves, prideful narcissists. Then I lost my godson to tragedy, and they their own kid. The next steps are what makes us different, and also the same.
I sought help where they refuse it. They dwell on it while I worked through it, and still work through it. I got better while they’re becoming bitter.
The moral and reason behind this?
They could have been me as easily as I could’ve been them. A reminder to stay humble, to remember my own brokenness before the Lord rescued me.
I recently finished a book by Tim Keller titled Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. Highly recommend it. It was a gold mine, and I took a stack of notes. I’m going to skip over the explanations and go right to the application part of dealing with suffering.
It’s A Matter of Perspective
In a natural secular framework, this life is all there is and the meaning of it is to be happy. Suffering has no place in this line of thought so there are no inherent resources for dealing with it. It’s why we tend to look to older cultures for help where suffering was a way of life.
Suffering is dealt with by controlling your responses. Some medicate, or self-medicate. Others do it through force of will like the Stoics (who leaned towards fatalism) and Buddhism (which kills all desire so suffering cannot take root). There is also finding the source and eliminating it. Either way, the person is all alone with no one to make it right in the secular view.
I went the way of the Stoics after my godson died, deciding to tough it out for the most part. I did talk to therapists and counselors. It still led to a fatalistic attitude and bottling it up. Like a volcano about to blow, people around me started to get burned and I realized I needed GriefShare.
Learning From Suffering
In the middle of the pain, it’s hard to see any good in it. It’s not until after that we can see it. There are three benefits of suffering.
People who endure and make it through are more resilient. My definition of a bad day is so much higher now.
Suffering strengthens relationships. It’s where you find out who your friends are. It also teaches you to appreciate the living more in times of grief.
Suffering triggers a change in priorities and philosophies. We discover what’s truly important, who is truly important. Slights are easier to forgive, petty arguments become pointless, and trivial negatives are overlooked.
There is a line in the movie The Crow, where the main character, Eric Draven says, “Little things used to mean so much to Shelly–I used to think of them as trivial. Believe me, nothing is trivial.”
In relationships, the people we care about, and our actions that affect them: that is absolutely right. Everything is precious.
Suffering Is A Forge
A dear friend of mine quoted part of the 23rd Psalm in GriefShare.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and staff, they comfort me.
“Through.” You have to walk through it. As we walk, we are humbled when we discover how little control we have. That was one of my major wake up calls.
It also teaches what it truly important, and forces us to rely on God. Like the Psalm says, “for you are with me.” Grief and pain are like clouds that hide the sun, but God is there.
The lessons we learn from it can help us to help others.
Suffering is Inevitable (Yay?)
This is a broken, fallen world that will one day be restored. Until then we will face suffering. We may bring it on ourselves, it may be from betrayal, or we have no idea why it’s happening. The one we all face is loss.
Tim Keller’s advice to prepare for it beforehand is to have a deep knowledge of the Bible and a strong prayer life. The first prepares the mind, the second, the heart.
Walking with God in Suffering
Unlike those with a naturalistic secular view, we’re not alone. It’s not a fight we have to fight alone, and we have a hope that their worldview cannot give them. Afterlife.
Tim lays out 8 things to do as you walk through the valley.
Cry. Be brutally honest with yourself and God. David did, there are several Psalms on lament. Job is an entire book of one man questioning God. Jesus cried bloody tears in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Trust. Trust God because He is sovereign, and trust His love because He’s been through it. Remember Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.”
Wrestle with it all until you can say is, ‘thy will be done.’
Pray. Job complained to God, and in doing so acknowledged God can do something about it. Go to church, read your Bible, ask God to help.
Discipline your thinking. Look back at answered prayers. I keep a list of mine to help me remember. Look at God’s promises in the Bible like all the tears will be wiped away, no more sickness or death, and everything will be made new. Do this until your heart is engaged.
Self-examination. Adversity presents an opportunity to look at ourselves and ask, ‘how do I need to grow?’ and ‘what weakness is this time of trouble revealing?’
Reorder your loves. Suffering reveals that we either love some things too much, or we don’t love God enough in proportion to them. Suffering hurts more when we turn good things into ultimate things. Jesus suffered mightily on the cross for us and recognizing that will help.
Suffering isn’t something we like to think of. Particularly if you live in a culture where the goal is happiness. In a naturalistic framework, suffering is the ultimate evil–killer of happiness. What does the Bible say about it? Quite a bit.
Lately, I’ve been camped out on two subjects: the problem of evil, and suffering. If you want to take Suffering 101, read the book of Job. That’s where we’ll be today, Job 1, and looking at the lessons from it.
A Philosophical Look At Job
It begins with an introduction to a man so righteous and good that only two other Old Testament characters can compare. Of course, it’s Job. Philosophically speaking, the question is, can you love God for who He is rather than what He’s done for you?
Job proves that you can. However, we learn something about the culture at the time. There were two lines of thinking then.
One is the Great Symbiosis, a line of cultural thought that says you seek favor from a deity or multiple gods by caring for them. Offerings were usually just cooking them dinner, or plying them with gifts.
A good modern day equivalent is talismans or offering something for a favor. How many of us have ‘negotiated’ with God? I have and didn’t keep my end of the bargain.
The second is the Retribution Principle. It simply states the righteous will prosper while the wicked will suffer. Karma follows the same line of thought, someone paying back what they did in a past life. You see calls for it online, “Karma will get them,” or “They’ll get what’s coming to them.”
My question is when they go through hard times, do they consider it to be their bad karma being worked off?
At the core of the Retribution Principle is justice. In a perfect world, it could work. However, we cannot avoid being affected by others’ actions, or our actions affecting others. The fact Job was the most righteous man to have ever lived at that point blew that principle out of the water.
A Personal Look At Job
This is where we turn from the philosophical to the personal. Job wasn’t guilty of anything, yet he suffered. Jesus wasn’t guilty of anything, yet the Son of God suffered. Not all who suffer are guilty of anything.
It’s not always punishment or the natural consequences of a sin. It can be because of this broken world, a personal or satanic attack. Supernatural beings aren’t using us as pawns in an undecided game. We serve an all-powerful, all-knowing God who sees and knows the end result.
Part of that was God the Son coming to earth to suffer and die for us. God knows suffering on more than an intellectual level. Suffering is actually part of the Christian life. 1st Peter is a pretty good book on it.
I don’t know who said it, but they put it like this: to the Christian, joy is at the center with suffering at the periphery. For others it’s reversed, suffering is at the center and joy is at the periphery. How can this be true?
The Christian’s joy comes from a relationship with an unchanging God.
What’s This Mean For Us?
We can’t comprehend the why of it in totality or see how far the ripples will spread. Romans 8:28 tells us God knows and He’s with us working all things–the good and bad–for the good of those who love Him, according to His purposes.
In this light, since I came with nothing, and will leave with nothing I have gotten for myself, I should–as hard as it is–give thanks in all things (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Because as Christians, we have our salvation to be thankful for, the good to enjoy, the lessons pain teaches us so we can help others, and can rely more on God.
So cry, and run to the Father, remembering He works all things for your good according to His purposes.