Suffering Is Universal
We don’t deliberately look for trouble in life. It comes. Suffering is a universal fact; no one can escape its claws. The rain falls upon the just and the unjust. We all face personal armageddons.
Some people have the mistaken idea that becoming a Christian will be a shelter from the personal storms of life. The story of many of our hymns will swiftly dispel this myth. A large number of our favorite hymns and spiritual songs were composed in the crucible of life.
Many illustrations could be given. Charlotte Elliott, when she was a helpless invalid, wrote “Just As I Am.” Frances Ridley Havergal, author of “Take My Life” and many other hymns, suffered much ill health. Fanny Crosby was blind, yet out of her suffering came such lovely songs as “Safe in the Arms of Jesus.” The hymn “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” was composed by the poet William Cowper in an hour of great mental distress.
One of the most frequently read portions of the Bible is the Book of Psalms. We turn to them so often because of the wide range of moods and experiences they represent. We can relate to them and find comfort in them because they reflect real life, with its joys and sorrows. Many of the Psalms were produced during periods of national and personal crises.
Psalm 137 expresses the heartache and agony of a people banished from their native land:
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps. — Psalm 137:1-2
After ravaging the land of Israel, the Babylonian army had forced its captives to march toward a land of exile and a terrifying future. Depressed and forlorn, the Hebrews discarded their musical instruments. There was no song left in their hearts. This Psalm keenly captures the feelings of a refugee people.
Many of the Psalms reflect the personal crises faced by David, Israel’s greatest king. We regard him as a man of unbelievable successes — his youthful triumph over the Philistine giant Goliath, his remarkable rise from shepherd boy to monarch, his notable victories over Israel’s foes. But David was also a man of unbearable sorrow. Unjustly accused of treason, he was forced to live for years as a fugitive. One of his sons died in infancy, some were morally corrupt, and others were ruthlessly murdered. At one point in his kingship, his own nation turned against him as another son attempted a coup.
God called David “a man after [my] own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). Although God obviously loved David, He did not exempt him from suffering.
No one is exempt from the touch of tragedy: neither the Christian nor the non-Christian; neither the rich nor the poor; neither the leader nor the commoner. Crossing all racial, social, political, and economic barriers, suffering reaches out to unite mankind.
The Reality of Suffering
Suffering is difficult to talk or write about, for it is not something that can adequately be examined outside the realm of experience. It is not abstract, nor is it philosophical. It is real and concrete. It leaves its scars. When the winds of adversity have passed, we are seldom unchanged.
It is only when one has passed through a crisis event that one can truly comprehend what it means to suffer. And often it is only in retrospect that we realize the purpose and value of our suffering.
Struggles in life can uncover untold depths of character and unknown strength for service. People who go through life unscathed by sorrow and untouched by pain tend to be shallow in their perspective on life. Suffering, on the other hand, tends to plow up the surface of our lives to uncover the depths that provide greater strength of purpose and accomplishment. Only deeply plowed earth can yield bountiful harvests.
Pain has many faces. One can suffer physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. Our difficulties are rarely confined to only one of these areas; they tend to overlap in human experiences. Some of the most intensive suffering can be psychologically induced and frequently lead to complications in the physical realm.
There are as many invisible hurts as there are visible hurts, and there can be difficulty in diagnosing them. We know that the unseen part of man is often the victim of the most debilitating of pains. In certain circumstances, a man can endure excruciating physical pain; and yet he can be felled by one unkind word. When we hear the story of the torture inflicted upon a P.O.W., we are astounded by his personal fortitude and the resiliency of the human body. But that same man’s life can be devastated by a single viciously perpetrated act or word.
Scripture has much to say about the power of the tongue to inflict cruelty. The psalmist says that bitter words are like deadly arrows. James wrote:
The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. — James 3:5-6
Man is capable of great victories and susceptible to great defeats. Man is both strong and sensitive. As the psalmist exclaimed,
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. — Psalm 139:14
In earnest we must endeavor to apply this sensitivity when dealing with the matter of suffering, especially as we consider the sufferings of others. We cannot feel someone else’s pain. We can see the anguish in his face and try to empathize. But we do not have his nerve endings. We cannot fully know the magnitude of his anguish.
We must never minimize the suffering of another. Scripture’s mandate to us is,
Weep with them that weep. — Romans 12:15, KJV
Our physical sufferings express a great truth. As C. S. Lewis cogently penned, “Pain… plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul.”1 The truth is this — man’s body is mortal, temporal. Man must look beyond himself to find immortality.
Suffering is one of God’s ways of speaking to us, of awakening us to our need of Him, and calling us to Himself. To quote C. S. Lewis again: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”2
If our suffering leads us to God, it has become a blessed and precious friend.
Emotional and Psychological Suffering
All of us suffer disappointments in life. Sometimes the effect upon us can be minor. At other times our lives can be devastated.
Loneliness, for instance, may be so intense that proper functioning as a man or woman is almost impossible. Shortly after her beloved consort Prince Albert died, Queen Victoria is reported to have confided in her trusted friend, Dean Stanley, that she was “always wishing to consult one who is not here, groping by myself, with a constant sense of desolation.”
Many of you are suffering from rejection, a hurt which causes great damage, for it affects us deep within. Possibly a girlfriend or boyfriend has dropped you for someone else. Or your marriage is breaking up over a third party. Possibly you have been interviewed for an important job and been turned down.
We see so many emotional and psychological sufferings among young people today. Suicide rates high among young adults.3 The current generation may face greater pressures than any other generation in modern times. Academically, students compete at the undergraduate level for elite positions in graduate school. One of our leading medical schools, to which only the most highly qualified apply, is highly competitive. One has to be incredibly strong to compete.
Many students find themselves in the midst of preparing for a future in a particular career only to face a declining job market.
The cost of education is increasing, forcing many students to bear the responsibility of working while they are at school.
By and large, in recent decades our society has discouraged our youth from looking to God for help. Without God as a source of guidance and strength, youth have turned to escapism through drugs, which has created new and deep-seated problems.
Insecurities can be crippling. We have fears that plague us and keep us from stepping out on new adventures and striving after new accomplishments. Often we hesitate to be aggressive in situations because we fear failure. There may be a job to do, but we do not feel adequate or qualified. Or we feel that we cannot do as good a job as our predecessor.
How would you feel stepping into the shoes of Moses, that man of miracles whom God chose to lead the Hebrew people out of Egyptian bondage? Apparently Joshua, Moses’ well-trained apprentice who was to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land, experienced a great sense of insecurity. During one particular “pep talk” with the new leader, God had to tell him three times not to be afraid. And the third time, God explained why Joshua could begin his new responsibilities with confidence:
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. — Joshua 1:9, italics mine
God promised His presence. And where God is, there also we find His peace and His power — a power which enables us to rise above discouragement and which leads us through the defeats in life. As we shall see, God can even use our disappointments to bring good into our lives. God does not call us to be successful, but to be obedient.
We must remember that we are weak vessels, through whom God can channel His power to accomplish His purposes. As one conference speaker is often heard saying, “God, I can’t; but You can, so let’s go!”
Emotional and psychological problems can result from things that come into our lives. But we can also be crippled by those things that do not come into our lives.
Some people are emotionally disabled because of an absence of love in their lives — particularly in their childhood. Those who have not received love in their early life find it difficult to give love later on. Nevertheless, regardless of how twisted and disordered our lives may be, God is able to bring us peace and He can put the pattern back into our lives.
- S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, © copyright CS Lewis Pte Ltd. 1955, 83. Extracts reprinted by permission.
- , 81.
- Gretchen Frazee, “Suicide among teens and young adults reaches highest level since 2000,” PBS News Hour (18 June 2019), https://www.pbs.org /newshour/nation/suicide-among-teens-and-young-adults-reaches -highest-level-since-2000.
Excerpted with permission from Who’s In Charge of a World That Suffers by Billy Graham, copyright The Billy Graham Literary Trust.
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If you’re in a personal armageddon, you are not alone. The Lord is with you and as brothers and sisters in Christ, we are in this together. Let’s join together in prayer for one another and lift our voices in praise to God knowing that we can’t, but He can. ~ Devotionals Daily