This is a personal post to share something important to me. It is not intended as a sermon / instructional essay. I just pray it brings help to anyone going through a similar journey.
Back in 2018, I reviewed Open Heart by Elie Wiesel and, in the same post, expressed my frustration to understand the purpose of suffering, especially Christian suffering. Why would God allow people who are following Him with all their hearts to be burdened with ongoing pain and unhappiness? It’s a deeply personal question, not only regarding myself but also the lives of people I love dearly.
Since then, I’ve battled the question internally and at times sought out other perspectives. I found some interesting insights (specifically from Catholic and Orthodox priests), but nothing I heard truly satisfied or convinced me. I’ll be honest: I’ve been at times alternately unhappy and even angry. I have 3–4 pages of notes and half-rants which I’d been planning to share as an update this month, in hopes that at least writing it out would be some sort of progress.
Then yesterday happened.
Yesterday was one of the worst days in recent memory—in recent years, in fact. Let’s just say, I have recurring Personal Issues that can make even “good” days miserable… On the surface, everything was great, but inside I felt utterly awful, fighting back tears even at my grandparents’ house. Yeah, it was a certified Bad Day.
I woke up this morning still feeling icky and almost skipped my Bible reading. But it’s pretty much a habit now, so rather numbly, I opened it up to where I left off, hoping it was a short chapter. It was Hebrews 5.
So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to Him:
“You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.”
As He also says in another place:
“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek”;
who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, called by God as High Priest “according to the order of Melchizedek,” of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.—Hebrews 5:5-11 (emphasis added), BibleGateway
I’ve read Hebrews before but this was like reading it for the first time. It felt like the fog in my brain was clearing.
Wanting to make sure “it wasn’t just me,” I searched around for some commentary on this passage. I found this incredible video by John Piper, whose perspectives have been helpful to me in the past (obligatory disclaimer: this is not a blanket endorsement of Piper):
In a nutshell: what Piper highlights contextually is that Jesus, who was sinless, nevertheless had His obedience tested—proven—through the endurance of suffering. And my takeway was that if even Jesus’ obedience was tested, how much more necessary is it for mine to be tested.
I cannot describe how much peace and, strangely, joy this gave me. See, I had thought for a long time that life’s struggles would get easier, or at least plateau, once I had aligned myself fully with God’s will. But rather, I have realized today that that is not so. In fact, suffering has and will only increase, not merely because the world is a cruddy place (it is) but because God allows me to struggle in more incrementally challenging situations, for my own sake.
To make a silly analogy (but the first that came to mind): it’s like a game. When you pass a level, you are getting closer and closer to maximum excellence. But the levels get increasingly harder and harder. There is no easy sailing after you make it past beginner level. Feeling frustrated or discouraged with the harder levels doesn’t mean you’re a bad player—in fact, the opposite! Your skills are being stretched so you will get even better.
Bringing it back to faith…the endurance of suffering—as I understand the verses in Hebrews and Piper’s analysis—is our proof that we are loyal, obedient, and trusting in God and in the salvation Christ gave us. It does not earn us salvation; rather, it is “walking the walk” which is our time to demonstrate that, when push comes to shove, we choose God over idolatry, over lust, over despair, over anything that tempts us. And He promises never to allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear (1 Cor. 10:13). But He does allow us to be tempted, often via suffering, so our untested obedience may be tested and proven true. It’s tangible evidence of our vow of faith. This is important for us personally and for those around us to see.
At the end of the day, Hebrews 5 brings me relief, because, while suffering continues, it isn’t purposeless, like some wretched Kafka novel. It is actually fully intentional, so what I’ve fought through so far, with the help of the Holy Spirit, is no longer a nightmare, but has become a blessing.
I am so sorry to hear about your ongoing issue and the pain involved. Though I look to different sources of solace, I am glad to hear that you found some comfort in these writings.
Thank you Brian, it means a lot!
I remember an older person saying years ago that if you haven’t suffered, you haven’t lived long enough. Not very inspiring but it is true. I think what you said here: “I had thought for a long time that life’s struggles would get easier, or at least plateau, once I had aligned myself fully with God’s will” is a common response. When we lost our first child, one of my relatives couldn’t understand how it could happen to us because we were Christians & that somehow we were immune to bad stuff happening to us. There’s much I don’t understand about suffering and although it hasn’t messed up my faith, non-the-less it’s given a lot of pain and a weight of sadness that is quite heavy at times. Keep looking up. X
Carol, thank you for the encouragement and I’m so sorry for your loss. ❤ My mom lost her younger brother years ago, and it left permanent scars on our family. I do think there are certain teachings (even outside of "prosperity gospel") that create a fantasized version of what Christian life will be like. It's part of why I felt compelled to share this…
It’s trite but there’s this: never was night not followed by day …. darkness is always vanquished by the light ….
So true, Tim!
This is keen, and thank you for sharing it. How many people can relate to what you write! (And that alone is a great help to others…to know they are not alone in the world in their personal burdens.) I am happy to know that you found relief in understanding the need for suffering and struggling, especially bc you found it so quickly in the Scriptures, where there is Truth. It is very humbling, too, to know where we are in position to God – that He does not give us more than we can handle at that time, that He knows everything before it happens, and that He is also always with us along the way. Someday, in hindsight, you will look back and be able to recognize your spiritual growth in this area. : )
There is certainly growth, Ruth, and maybe that’s why it’s so frustrating at times. 🙂 Subconsciously, I don’t *really* want to reach my full potential.
And I don’t know if it’s just part of being a 90s kid, but I grew up with the overwhelming realization that I had a good life and nothing to feel bad about (a pastor once actually said something like this to me, albeit with good intentions—he didn’t know what I was going through). It makes sense to me today that I would be tested by other kinds of challenges…God not being complacent with “good enough” like I tend to be.
i’m not a Christian, but i know what unhappiness is… don’t know any magic cures, tho, just patience; it will get better, whatever it is… sometimes it helps to recognize the little things that cheer a person up? or not…
Yes, I’ve been trying to make more time for those things now. 🙂 I’ve got into a daily walking habit, which helps a lot!
Isn’t it funny that during Sunday School I was thinking about the aspect of suffering. I don’t know why, but I have concluded that God uses suffering to complete His good work in us and glorify Himself. This is something I struggled with when I was a single mom for several years. There were years of loneliness and depression, but always God, too.
That is really true, Sharon. I can get so frustrated at times, basically asking God “aren’t I glorifying You enough?” But I think that goes back to Him seeing more even potential in us than we do.
Thank you for sharing this, Marian…you’ve read Seneca before, I think? In one of his collections, perhaps “Dialogues and Essays”, he comments on suffering, and pain, and takes heart in the idea that those who suffer have been chosen by God to endure the trial — not to punish them, but to strengthen them. It’s a constructive way to approach pain and suffering, even if one doesn’t like the idea of God signaling people out for torturous situations.
I read Letters, but Dialogues and Essays is also on my list. 🙂 That is a great insight. That plus knowing being tested is necessary relieves some of the burden, or at least serves as that “light at the end of the tunnel.”
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“I suppose the trouble is that one thinks one’s life instead of living it. Occasionally one enters into contact for a split second, when the wind blows across one’s face, or when the moon comes out from behind a cloud, or a wave breaks against the rocks in some particular way which it would be impossible to recognize or define. Then one catches oneself being conscious of the contact and it is lost.”
just saying… mp
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