All of us want to have God's blessings for comfort and pleasure in this world. Our modern materialistic world equates “ultimate happiness” with getting what we want, having the love of family and friends or achieving our personal ambitions. But true happiness is not found in living whatever way feels best to us but in living the life that we are created to live. God’s calling is not to worldly success but to faithfulness. And the greatest test of our faith is the suffering we face in this world. C. H. Spurgeon tells us how our faith can be tried:
“Faith must be tried, and seeming desertion is the furnace, heated seven times, into which it might be thrust. Blest is the man who can endure the ordeal!”
We do not like to be reminded of the reality of suffering. No one can escape suffering but we can choose to let suffering turn us into miserable and bitter persons or to use suffering to transform our pain into the heavenly gold so that we become joyful and better persons.
In the gospel of Mark (chapter 10:35-45), we read of how the sons of Zebedee, James and John asked to be seated at the right and left hand of Jesus when he is in heaven. In response, Jesus asked if they are able to go through the baptism of suffering. They replied they can. Jesus then told them that they will indeed do so but they cannot be guaranteed the positions in heaven that they have requested.
This does not mean that we are to celebrate suffering or to invite suffering into our lives. We just need to face the reality of suffering so that we will not be filled with fear but can stand firm on the blessed assurance that the steadfast love of our Lord never ceases. Some people may question how can there be a God of love with all the suffering we see in the world. But the truth is that suffering is a by-product of love - the more we love the more suffering we are likely to face.
There is no human being who will not taste suffering sooner or later in life. But the good news is that there is hope in suffering because of the cross of Christ. To bring hope to people in need in our troubled times is the calling of all Christians. I was reminded in an Upper Room devotional that seeds of hope are sown through every kind word, through acts of mercy and through teaching and learning.
One important lesson is that we do not have to understand all of God’s ways with us. We need to practice the discipline to see more and more from God’s perspective especially when little things don’t go the way we had hoped. As we do so, we will not be burdened with the accumulation of petty cares and frustrations. We will then not waste our emotional energies on petty problems but save them for the more serious problems that come our way.
A Pollyanna and second hand faith that is focussed only on the blessings of God is a faith that is built on sand. H.A. Williams, an Anglican theologian makes the following observation:
“That is why for most of the time resurrection means little to us. It is remote and isolated. And that is why for the majority of people it means nothing…… People do well to be sceptical of beliefs not anchored in present experience.”
We are too self-absorbed and inattentive to hear God’s whispers of love. We are too easily distracted and side-tracked by fear or selfishness. We are obsessed with our own life stories instead of the greater story of God’s love in the world.
Brennan Manning makes the point that the dark riddle of life is illuminated in Jesus. Understanding the meaning, purpose and goal of everything that happens to us can only be learned from Jesus who is the Way, the Truth and the Life:
“Without deliberate awareness of the risenness of Jesus, life is nonsense, all activity useless, all relationships in vain. Apart from the risen Christ we live in a world of impenetrable mystery and utter obscurity – a world without meaning, a world of shifting phenomena, a world of death, danger, and darkness. A world of inexplicable futility. Nothing is interconnected. Nothing is worth doing, for nothing endures. Nothing is seen beyond appearances. Nothing is heard but echoes dying on the wind. No love can outlast the emotion that produced it. It is all sound and fury with no ultimate significance.”
We need to understand that our life is hidden in Christ. As we pay attention to the nudges of the Holy Spirit we will have a first-hand experience of what the resurrection of Jesus means in our daily lives. Only then will our faith be grounded on the Rock of Christ. We can then affirm the truth that Paul shared with the Corinthians:
“That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produced for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we cannot see will last forever.” - 2nd Corinthians 4:16-18