This is part of long reflections about suffering from Martin R. De Haan II. I found them something worth sharing, especially during Holy Week. The entire reflection is very lengthy so I decided to break it up based on the section therein.
So why does a loving God allow suffering?
To Unite Us
Pain and suffering seem to have a special ability to show us how much we need each other. Our struggles remind us how fragile we really are. Even the weakness of others can bolster us when our own strength is sapped.
This truth becomes very real to me each time I meet with a small group of church friends for prayer and fellowship. During those regular times together, we have shared one another’s burdens for a sick child, the loss of a job, workplace tensions, a rebellious child, a miscarriage, hostility among family members, depression, everyday stresses, an unsaved family member, tough decisions, neighborhood crime, battles with sin, and much more. Many times at the end of those meetings I have praised the Lord for the encouragement that we have given to one another. We have been drawn closer and we have been strengthened as we have faced the struggles of life together.
These kinds of personal experiences in light of Scripture remind me of two key truths:
1. Suffering helps us to see our need of other believers.
2. Suffering helps us to meet the needs of others as we allow Christ to live through us.
Let’s take a look at each of these ways God uses pain and suffering for the purpose of uniting us with other believers in Christ.
1. SUFFERING HELPS US TO SEE OUR NEED OF OTHER BELIEVERS.
In describing the unity of all believers in Christ, the apostle Paul used the analogy of a human body (1 Cor. 12). He said that we need each other to function properly. Paul described the situation this way: “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually” (vv.26,27).
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul spoke of Christ, “from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (Eph. 4:16).
When we begin to recognize all that other believers have to offer us, then we will realize how much can be gained by reaching out to them when we are going through a time of struggle. When troubles seem to knock out our strength, we can lean on other believers to help us find new strength in the Lord’s power.
2. SUFFERING HELPS US TO MEET THE NEEDS OF OTHERS AS WE ALLOW CHRIST TO LIVE THROUGH US.
In 2 Corinthians 1, the apostle Paul wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (vv.3,4).
As we saw in the previous section, we need each other because we have something valuable to offer each other. We have spiritual insights and wisdom that we have learned as we have undergone trials of all sorts. We know the value of the personal presence of a loving person. When we experience the comfort of God during a troubling situation, we then have an ability to identify with those people who undergo similar situations.
While preparing to write this booklet, I read about the experiences of people who have suffered greatly, and I spoke with others who were familiar with pain. I searched to find out who helped them most in their time of trouble. The answer again and again has been this: another person who had undergone a similar experience. That person can empathize more fully, and his or her comments reflect understanding that comes by experience. To someone who is burdened down, it often sounds shallow and patronizing to hear another say, “I understand what you are going through,” unless that person has gone through a similar situation.
Even though the best comforters are those who have undergone similar situations and have grown spiritually stronger through them, that does not mean that the rest of us are off the hook. All of us have a responsibility to do all we can to empathize, to try to understand, to try to comfort. Galatians 6:2 tells us, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” And Romans 12:15 states, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”
Dr. Paul Brand, an expert on the disease of leprosy, wrote, “When suffering strikes, those of us standing close by are flattened by the shock. We fight back the lumps in our throats, march resolutely to the hospital for visits, mumble a few cheerful words, perhaps look up articles on what to say to the grieving.
“But when I ask patients and their families, ‘Who helped you in your suffering?’ I hear a strange, imprecise answer. The person described rarely has smooth answers and a winsome, effervescent personality. It is someone quiet, understanding, who listens more than talks, who does not judge or even offer much advice. ‘A sense of presence.’ ‘Someone there when I needed him.’ A hand to hold, an understanding, bewildered hug. A shared lump in the throat” (Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, pp.203,204).
It’s clear–God made us to be dependent on one another. We have much to offer those in pain, and others have much to offer us as we endure troubles. As we develop that unity, we will experience greater comfort when we recognize that God uses suffering to alert us to the problems of sin, He uses difficulty to direct us to Him, and He can even use problems to make us more like Christ.