Suffering is Part of Existence
Suffering or pain is not something that we can choose or not to choose. Is it? We don’t have an option on this matter. Suffering is a very much part of our existence. Suffering and pain will always be there.
I am not talking about a huge, dramatic suffering. I am talking about what we experience in our daily living.
We get hurt.
We get disappointed.
There are things that frustrate us and annoy us.
Worries and Anxiety.
Lack of confidence.
Difficulties in relationships.
All of these are what cause suffering in us. Suffering is not something we can avoid. It always comes to us like an uninvited guest. It intrudes our lives. It takes away joy from us.
When we Suffer
Suffering makes us weak. When we suffer, we question, “Why do these things happen to me?” “Did I do something wrong?” We wonder whether God loves us. When we suffer, we feel lonely. We feel distant from people. Maybe it’s not them. Maybe it’s us. We may distance ourselves from them. We don’t want to meet people when we suffer. The extreme suffering makes us feel that we are abandoned, abandoned even by God. Jesus cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That shows the extreme suffering Jesus experienced. It is more painful than saying, “I am hurt”.
When we suffer, we feel small. To inflict suffering on Jesus, that was what they did. They try to make him feel small. They humiliated him. They ridiculed him. They put on a false crown made with thorns. They put on a royal robe. They bowed before him, calling him Majesty. Then they slapped him, spat at him and punched him. They tried to make Jesus look most pitiful.
Losing to Suffering
That’s what suffering does to our lives. It takes away our dignity. It makes us feel small and pitiful. We lose confidence. We feel like we are nobody.
When we let suffering oppress us, dominate us, and control us, we lose ourselves. We lose confidence. We lose dignity. We lose even our identity. We lose everything. That is when suffering destroys us. And suffering wins. That’s when suffering intimidates us. It makes us run away from it.
It is one thing to say that suffering is an inseparable part of our lives but it is another thing to say that we have to live under the dictatorial control of suffering. We don’t have to let suffering do that to us. That is not what God wants from us. God taught us to OVERCOME OUR SUFFERING. Jesus came to us to show us the way to overcome our suffering. Jesus went through greater suffering than most of us. But he didn’t let suffering control his life. HE OVERCAME SUFFERING.
In John, he said,
I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world! (John 16:33)
Conquering the world means to have victory over suffering. He defeated the suffering. Conquering suffering does not mean that there is no more suffering. Jesus still went through it but it could not dominate him. It could not paralyze him. Suffering could not intimidate him. It could not control him. That is the strength of Jesus. And we need that strength.
We will experience suffering but the important question is whether we let it control us or we LET SUFFERING SERVE US. Be prepared. Be prepared to take on the challenge of suffering.
St. Paul went through a lot of suffering. We can see that in his confession.
Are they ministers of Christ? I am talking like a madman—I am a better one: with far greater labours, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. (2 Corinthians 11:23-27)
He went through a lot. But we see that even this much suffering could not control him. We can see that in his confession.
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:8, 9)
We cannot avoid suffering but we can defeat it. The more you try to run away from suffering because of fear, the more it will control you. If we let the suffering control us, we will lose life. We cannot live anymore a meaningful life. It will scare us. It will make our life dark. And it controls our daily thinking. What kind of life is that?
Let Suffering Serve Us
What we need is the power to defeat our suffering. Instead of letting the suffering control us, we let the suffering serve us. Jesus and St. Paul received so much suffering, but they didn’t let suffering control them but let suffering serve them.
Listen to St. Paul.
And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, (Romans 5:3, 4)
Does it look like he was controlled by suffering? No. He let suffering serve him. He even boasted in his suffering. Suffering could not destroy him. It could not make him a lesser person. Suffering actually made him stronger, more patient, more character, and more hope.
Jesus also said,
Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24)
A grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies – This meant the suffering of death. Even the suffering of death became a seed that brought about life, Jesus said. To Jesus, suffering brought glory, not disaster. We see that in today’s scripture. He always said that my time has not yet come. But in today’s passage, he said finally that my time has come.
And he said,
The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. (John 12:23)
He was talking about the hour to take the cross. And yet he called it the hour to be glorified. Suffering brought him glorification, not humiliation. To Jesus, glory and suffering – they are two sides of the same coin. Suffering doesn’t destroy us, it brings glory. Jesus transformed the power of suffering from destruction to construction. Now suffering serves Jesus.
Do not React with Emotion
When suffering hits, don’t react with emotion. You will lose the game. You will become desperate, sad and dark. And even become angry. That is how you fall into the trap of suffering. If we do that, it will start having power over you and control you.
Suffering, of course, is hard to bear. Jesus also confessed today.
Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”? (John 12:27)
But he said immediately that it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. He didn’t say why this is happening to me? He said let it come. I am ready to take you on. Jesus was ready. He was ready to face his suffering.
And he said,
Father, glorify your name. (John 12:28)
He saw that his suffering will bring God’s glory.
My friends, when suffering visits, look to God. Don’t react. Don’t fear that it may destroy you. Look to God. That was what Job did. Job was the person who knew something about suffering.
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; (Job 42:5)
Face Your Suffering
When we suffer, we don’t feel God’s presence but ironically, it is also time to really meet God meaningfully. When we suffer, that is the best time to seek God. Because you need God. You have this desire you didn’t have before. That desire is possible only when you are desperate. The desire that we couldn’t have when times were good, that desire we will arise from within us. We will seek God concretely and desperately. Our outcries become real. Our prayers become real.
And face your suffering. Suffering will lose its power. It will lose its power to torment us. It will start serving us. It will make us stronger. It will make our existence solid. It will create hope within us. THE SOIL THAT HOPE GROWS IS SUFFERING. The hope our comfortable life could not create, our suffering will create. That hope is the hope that saves us. Through that hope, God’s glory will appear.
My friends, we can defeat the suffering. Suffering itself will not destroy us. When we have the right attitude, suffering will rather serve us. Suffering will guide us into deeper faith in God. When life’s storms hit you, be still. In that calmness, look to God. You will be able to rise with God above the storm.