See Luminosity

Suffering for Good

Suffering for Good

Today my youngest daughter and I went by Dominic’s grave. Just a brief visit, we stopped by to…remember? Grieve? Reacquaint ourselves with the fact that we really did have a baby? I don’t know why we went, maybe for all of the above.

Afterward came the inevitable musings: “I miss Dominic, Mom”. “I wish he didn’t die”.

And, of course, even if it’s not stated, the eternal question: “If God is so good, why does He allow so much pain?”

I’ve spent a lot of time looking into the theological implications of that question, and am well acquainted with the realities of human sin and a fallen creation, the consequences of free will…yada yada yada.

It’s all good, and all important. But now, almost a year after losing my son, that theology has come home to roost. It was theory before; now it’s experience. I don’t just have to give an educated answer to the pain question, anymore. I’ve lived it, now. And it’s changed how I see everything.

God’s love doesn’t seek to make us comfortable in this life. God’s love seeks to make us like Him.

He doesn’t work for us to feel good. He works for us to be good.

My New Theology of Suffering

I, and our whole world, have gotten it wrong. There is this underlying assumption that we should be pain-free. And, even deeper than that, an assumption that the ultimate destination we seek to reach, as human beings, is getting what we want – and what we want always involves happiness and not pain. Our theology of suffering starts with….us.

For a good bit of life before Dominic, I have lived that. Pretty much expecting, even if not consciously, that God should make my life comfortable. Oh, I might say that I knew His goal wasn’t to make me comfortable, but I lived according to that expectation. I fought against pain or discomfort, and, when I felt either, wondered what God was doing. On some unconscious, inner level, my prayers were toward God giving me what I wanted…whatever that happened to be at the time.

“Lord please help me get this job.” “Lord, help us get pregnant.” “Lord, please heal my health issues.”

Really, life before Dominic was mostly focused on me, and on getting what I want in this life. And I don’t necessarily mean material things, although there certainly was that to some degree. Primarily I mean happiness, health, comfort, peace, security, love…I wanted to feel good, in this life.

From that perspective, suffering looks like either the absence, lack of care, or punishment of God. And I’m convinced that is why so many people choose not to follow Him: Why follow an eternal being that either is incapable of preventing suffering for us, or, even worse, chooses not to stop it?

But Dominic helped me see the flaw in that logic – that God is somehow outside of goodness. That “good” exists in the world in some way as something we experience through getting what we want or through favorable circumstances, and that God simply has a hand in either dispensing or not dispensing that good to us in this life.

I see it differently, now.

Suffering can only be understood through the lens of eternity. The starting point is not us. The starting point is Him, because He is Goodness.

We start from the perspective of ourselves, thinking that “good” should happen to us. When the truth of the matter is that there is no good apart from what Goodness is – Him. The more of Him we get, experience, and become, the more we get good. However it happens, whatever means it requires to get Him, if you get the Lord, you get Good.

When you understand that, even suffering makes sense.

The Usefulness of Pain

I truly believe that we cannot know Him fully, experience Him completely, or become like Him without suffering. I lived my whole life as a Christian, in an effort to follow the Lord – but I still lived it mostly for myself.  And that is because, to be honest, I hadn’t really, truly suffered. Certainly I’d had bumps in the road of life, but on the scale of “favorable circumstances vs. suffering”, the whole of my life has been vastly weighted on the left side of that scale. And, because of it, I handled most of life through my own resources and abilities. It was all about me. About living life on my terms.

It wasn’t until my deepest suffering that I made the leap from being focused on God giving me what I want to truly desiring to become like Him and do what He wants. And, it wasn’t until I desired to become like Him and do what He wants that I got true, real, good – the kind of good that encompasses not just feeling but being, and prevails even when the circumstances are not good.

Paul even says it, in 2 Corinthians 1:  “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God”.

We do not truly, fully rely on the Lord until we have suffered to the point that we have nothing of ourselves left.

I have to feel pain. It’s the only thing that breaks down my pride, shatters my self-reliance, reveals my desperate need for the Lord. Pain – just like the sensation that our fingers are burning when we touch something hot – wakes us up to the fact that if we do not make changes our being is in trouble. It is suffering that causes us to pull our hand back from the flames of self and sin, and into the cooling living water of Christ. Without pain, we just keep touching the heat over and over again (often not even realizing it), until we are burned beyond repair.

And, I now know, once you’ve experienced Christ’s balm, you wonder why you ever even tried to touch the hot stove to begin with.

The world will never get this. They can’t. Because it involves giving up self in order to be like Christ, and you can never understand wanting to be like Christ until you get Christ. It involves seeing this life as a brief stop along the journey to the next, rather than seeing this life as the ultimate destination. It involves accepting the unacceptable – pain – temporarily, in order to achieve the unattainable – righteousness – forever.

It involves trusting the Lord’s way, even thanking the Lord for the painful way – knowing that through it He works good out of suffering to make us more like Him.

Because, again, there is no good apart from Him. So everything that brings us to Him, even suffering, is good.

 

  • “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” Romans 8:28.
  • “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Jesus’ Good Through Suffering

Jesus lived this reality – that suffering is God’s path to good.

 

  • “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.” Isaiah 53:4

Yes, from our self-centered, human perspective, suffering looks like punishment. Or, at least, lack of love or concern on God’s part. But it wasn’t any of those things; it was grace.

 

  • “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us…For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to [God] through the death of his Son, how much more…shall we be saved through his life! Romans 5:8, 10
  • “To all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God“ John 1:12
  • “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23

Jesus’ suffering is what gave us His good. The good of eternal life. The good of freedom from enslavement to sin. The good of being children of God, and heirs to everything that is beautiful, wonderful, excellent, and perfect. It required suffering for us to get it.

If suffering was the path God Himself had to go down to give us good, how can the suffering we experience, when in His hands, be anything other than good?

 

  • “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3

Good From My Pain

Jesus showed me the model that suffering is not punishment (or lack of love), but grace, but I didn’t see it until Dominic. I didn’t see it, because I was focused on myself, and on my own feeling good in this life.

Suffering is God’s best tool for achieving good, because suffering brings us to Him, and He = good.

That sounds like craziness to someone who hasn’t experienced it. But I have. And, you know what?

 

  • Before, I lived as a slave to my schedule and task-orientation. Now, when the Lord brings a need to my attention, I am able to change my schedule for the person.
  • Before, I compared up and stressed about my financial status. Now, I can compare down and know that the Lord will supply our needs, even if I can’t see how.
  • Before, I saw the world’s academic and social standard as the guideline for my children’s success. Now, I see the guideline for my children’s success as being disciples of Christ who use their unique God-given talents in service to Him.
  • Before, I struggled to enjoy many of the daily tasks of childrearing. Now, I revel in time with my kids, and find time each day to just delight in them.
  • Before, my devotion times were often out of discipline more than love. Now, I am overtaken by eagerness to be in His presence and hear His words to me.
  • Before, I relied primarily on myself and feared anything out of my control. Now, I feel a freedom and peace in knowing that He is in control, and knowing that no matter what happens, 1) He will be with me while I’m here experiencing it or 2) If it ends up killing me, then the pain will end for good and replaced with unimaginable joy in heaven.
  • Before, my prayers often were directed in convincing God to give me what I wanted. Now, I am, for the first time, able to truly release my own desires and know that anything I want will be subpar compared with what He is working to give me.

I have lived life with God working for good in favorable circumstances, and I have now lived life with God working for good in my suffering. And, I will tell you, a year after losing my son…

God working for good in my suffering is better.

Yes.

Why? Because the good that comes through positive circumstances merely helps me to feel good, primarily while those circumstances remain favorable. But suffering brings me to be good by making me more like Christ. The more I become like Christ, the more I am ushered in to the fullness of what “good”, in any form, really is.

Good circumstances only get you a temporary feeling of good. The good that God works through suffering gets you Goodness –a rightness of being and feeling that comes from experiencing and being more like God – regardless of your circumstances.

There just is no “good” apart from the Lord.

Whatever you are going through, no matter how bad, it’s God working for good, regardless of how it feels.

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).

Paul called it “glory”.

I call it “good”.

And, a year after losing my sweet little man, I can tell you that it is worth suffering for.

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“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:10-11

 

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