Forthright Magazine

Paths through suffering

When today means suffering, two knee jerk responses are common. Alternatively, two spiritually healthy roads less traveled beckon. The choice is ours.

Trouble and pain often elicit lashing out at God. Suffering can drive a wedge between our hearts and serving our God. Paul knew firsthand crushing suffering. He described it as being, “burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of living” (2 Corinthians 1:8). Can we relate?

Yet, rather than railing against God, Paul discovered a very different path forward. His weaknesses and sufferings drove him to trust in God whose power can even raise the dead!  (2 Corinthians 1:9). In his powerlessness Paul centered his hope upon the one who could, rather than wallow in his own hopelessness.

Is this a manipulative tool forcing God to alleviate our suffering? Of course not. Rather, it redirects our energies and attention toward God from whom our hope comes. Remembering God’s love, grace, power and mercy can even inspire thanksgiving amidst suffering.

A second typical response toward suffering involves turning inward. A self-absorbed focus consumed with my pain can grow overshadowing all of life. In more than one letter, Paul counseled turning our hearts outward.

To the church in Philippi suffering persecution from without and stress within, Paul prescribed the outward focused motivation of pursuing the best for others (Philippians 2:2-8). Their lives were to exude a profound love (Philippians 1:9).

To those within the church in Corinth who had experienced God’s comfort, they were “to comfort those experiencing any trouble with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:4). God’s desires for our hearts to focus outward toward the needs of others.

Are we dealing with crisis, suffering, or sorrow? We could become embittered against God alienating ourselves against the source of all hope and mercy. We could allow our troubles to empower a self-centered black hole swallowing up all surrounding light thus causing our lives to implode upon ourselves.

Alternatively, we could trust in God who is able. By looking beyond ourselves to our loving God who is powerful, we could offer up our fervent petitions mixed with thanksgiving. Furthermore, rejecting making life all about ourselves, we could be driven to discover how to bless others. What are their needs? How can we encourage and comfort others by relating how our God has comforted us?

Do these two less travelled paths magically resolve all trouble? No.

What is certain is that if we are suffering, we will find a path to travel. Whether our lives are filled with hope or bitterness, love or self-absorption is our choice.


Barry Newton
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