When I was really sick, people used to ask me what God was teaching me. I guess they assumed that since I was experiencing great suffering God must have been downloading vast amounts of wisdom into my tiny brain.
The truth is, my tiny brain was fully occupied with the business of survival and the majority of the time I felt like God wasn’t teaching me anything. Actually, that’s an understatement. I felt like God had dropped me into a pit of agony and left me there to die. I tried to reach out for him but there was no answer, no reassuring sense of peace or divine comfort.
The Bible teaches that “all things work together for good to those who love God,” including suffering. Unfortunately, Christians often act as though that promise means that our suffering won’t really hurt. That God will be sitting beside us with a magic wand turning our most agonizing experiences into happy memories of divine love. This could not be further from the truth. Pain hurts. It really, really, really hurts.
Here is what Tim Keller has to say on Romans 8:28,
“Romans 8 must not be read in a saccharine way. It does not say that every bad thing has a ‘silver lining’ or that every terrible thing that can happen is somehow ‘actually a good thing if you learn to look at it properly.’ No, Paul says in Romans 8: 28 that all things—even bad things—will ultimately together be overruled by God in such a way that the intended evil will, in the end, only accomplish the opposite of its designs—a greater good and glory than would otherwise have come to pass. Only God now has that eternal perspective and vantage point from which he can see all things working together for our good and for his glory—but eventually we will occupy that place and will see it too.”
This is a robust hope that can stand up to real pain and sorrow! It is the hope I clung to even when I wasn’t sure I believed it. I certainly didn’t feel like it was true. No one could see things working together for my good. It sure looked like things were working together for my destruction.
When the years of intense suffering abated they gave way to grief and confusion. Now the grief and confusion is finally giving way to hope. I don’t yet see how all the details of my dreadful illness have worked together for my good and I don’t expect I ever will on this side of heaven. But I am starting to catch glimpses of my pain being worked for good.
I’m starting to see things I didn’t see before and discovering some genuine gifts that came through my suffering. My marriage is stronger and sweeter than most marriages ever get to be. Brett’s online business was born out of necessity and yet it has blessed us with enormous flexibility.
I notice beauty that I used to just pass by, like the cute little paw prints in the mud or the frost on the grass. I take great delight in things that I used to take for granted, like being with friends or working out. Lots of things that used to worry me don’t really worry me at all anymore, like material possessions and food.
I used to have an antagonistic relationship with my body but now I revel in the joy and wonder of being embodied. I used to have an opinion on almost everything, now I listen more and try to be a little bit more humble. I used to blindly trust other people’s interpretation of scripture, now I seek to trust God and ask Him for wisdom. I used to think I understood people, now I know how to ask good questions. I used to worry about what people thought of me, now I don’t care as much.
My sickness took us out of life and everyone went ahead without us. It was scary to get left behind but it set us free from the frantic pace of modern life. We’re definitely not going to waste the rest our lives rushing from one thing to another. We’re free to focus on what really matters and we’re not afraid to do things differently anymore.
None of these things undo my losses or answer all my questions but they do build my hope. I haven’t yet tasted enough good to feel satisfied that my pain was worthwhile. But if these truly good blessings can be born out of my suffering in less than 6 years, imagine how much good can God work in 6,000 more years?
So, whether you’ve been suffering for one month or 50 years, take courage that God really can work it for your good. It doesn’t mean you’ll see Him transform your pain into blessings before your eyes. It just means that in the middle of your doubts and agony you can trust. You can trust that someday you will see God turn all of this evil back on itself and use it to accomplish the very opposite of what it set out to do. Cling to that. Cling to it even when you don’t believe it.
By the way, Brett and I made a beautiful PDF of my favorite resources for suffering souls. I created the content and he made it look fancy with his superduper graphic design skills. It’s available for free to my email subscribers. Click here to sign up and receive 5 Resources for the Suffering Soul.