In order to be effective in caring for others, Kenneth Haugk in his book Don't sing songs to a Heavy Heart says that it helps to know what the Bible has to say about suffering. He says there is a lot we can learn about pain and suffering from its pages. There is comfort there for those who suffer and wisdom for those who care.
Although Christians are a new creation now, we do not yet live in a totally renewed creation. As Romans 8 says we are still living with suffering, frustration, bondage to decay, groaning and weakness. Sound familiar? The Christian life is not all inexpressible joy. It often is a mixture of joy and sadness, contentment and restlessness, comfort and pain. Many benefits of being God's child are delayed, including freedom from pain and suffering.
The apostle Paul talks about the "not yet" future hope in the context of a Christian's present pain and suffering from his own experience as he describes it in these words:
"To keep me from becoming conceited? there was give me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But 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 12:7-10)
Here are some lessons we can learn about pain and suffering from this passage:
- Paul doesn't say what his "thorn in the flesh" was. What we know is that it tormented him and he considered it a messenger of the evil one. Pain hurts ?even for great people of faith.
- The Bible never says that faith is an insurance policy against suffering. Jesus took the punishment for our sins upon himself, so we are free from sin's punishment, but not from life's suffering. As God's child, Paul could hope for a life free of suffering, but he still experienced the pain of an imperfect world. He longed for relief he knew would be his some time but could not be his right now.
- Paul is honest about his life, not mentioning his successes but his unrelieved pain, so that his readers will hear what God says to him: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
- God doesn't initiate the pain, but he does redeem it. God gives Paul in his pain a richer understanding of grace a grace that is able to carry him through suffering and equip him to minister even more capably to others. His pain and suffering helps Paul to share God's love in Christ with others in a more genuine and empathic way.
- The words, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness," is best shared with others by people who are suffering themselves; second best by people who have suffered, but only about their own suffering; and not at all by those who cannot empathize with the suffering of others.