by Julie Zine Coleman @JulieZColeman
An old friend of mine recently suffered a medical problem which required extensive surgery. The whole ordeal caught her off-guard. “I never expected to have to go through anything like this,” she sheepishly confessed to me. “I assumed that the Lord would protect me from suffering.” Psalm 121 had been her mantra for many years: “He who watches over you will not slumber… the Lord will keep you from all harm…”(Psalm 121:3, 7 NIV).
My friend had it half-right. We can count on the presence and care of a God who misses no detail. Nothing can separate us from his love or the salvation we received through his grace. But to expect a life devoid of suffering would necessitate ignoring a large portion of Scripture.
Whether we like it or not, suffering is part of God’s plan for his people.
In the pivotal point of Mark’s gospel, Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was. Peter jumped in with a breakthrough revelation: “You are the Messiah.” Jesus quickly cautioned him not to tell anyone.
Jesus knew the disciples’ understanding of the nature of his messiahship was still inaccurate. The common Jewish messianic expectation was based on Old Testament Scriptures promising a conquering hero. He would come to liberate Israel from her oppressors, set up a kingdom, and reign from Jerusalem. The disciples were excited about this. So they anxiously awaited the day Jesus would come into his own.
Many prophecies do reveal him as a conquering hero and ruling king. Yet others portray him as a suffering servant, facing rejection by men and even by God. Isaiah wrote, “It was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer… He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds, we are healed” (Isaiah 53:10, 5 NIV).
Suffering would be part of the messianic plan. In fact, it was The Plan.
Peter then actually took the Lord aside and rebuked him. Jesus recognized Peter’s emotional reaction for what it was: personal disillusionment. The life of ease and power the disciples anticipated was quickly fading away as Jesus revealed what the future had in store.
Peter needed to adjust his messianic expectations. “You do not have in mind the things of God,” Jesus told him, “but merely human concerns” (Matthew 16:23b NIV).
Jesus then took the disciples a step further. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me,” he told them. Suffering would be part of the plan for them as well.
We will experience suffering on many levels. Physical pain, disease, and the effects of old age will intrude into our lives. Grief will drive us to our knees as we struggle to survive great losses. All of us will experience hurts and offenses that are difficult to forgive. But as believers, those things are not without purpose; suffering is a perspective-changing crucible. The unimportant details that would have distracted us in our walk with Him become trivial. With everything stripped away, we find that God is all that matters.
Peter eventually understood the purifying opportunity suffering presents. In his later years, he wrote: “He who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1-2 NIV).
Someday, suffering will no longer exist for us. We will no longer need suffering in our lives, because we will finally be complete. But until that time, count on suffering to be a part of your life. Embrace it as best you can, for it is evidence of a loving God at work in you.
“He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NIV
About the author: Julie Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or walking her neurotic dog. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.
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Join the conversation: How has suffering affected your priorities and understanding of God?