The Talk Place

Blogs with inside information and personal opinions from GRN members around the world


Christine Platt - Saturday 05 March 2016

Everything and pretty much everybody around us tells us to avoid suffering – even pain itself!

During a recent month long visit to GRN staff in Thailand, Myanmar and PNG the issue of suffering has come to my attention time and time again.

As I talked to different people and heard their stories a steady stream of suffering came through along with the encouragements and challenges of ministry. World events have also brought suffering very much to mind.

I started to ponder suffering in the Bible.

Jesus suffered terribly for the joy set before him (Heb 12). Paul rejoiced in his sufferings and wrote repeatedly that a true disciple will share in Christ’s sufferings. I think of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Elijah and so many of the prophets.

Yes, suffering is a normal part of the human condition and having Jesus as your Lord and Saviour does not exempt you from it. If anything it seems to ensure that suffering will be part and parcel of your life (otherwise your adoption into God’s family is in question Rom 8 ).

We see that suffering does have a purpose:

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance, and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4 NRSV

… we boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us , because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
Rom 5:3-5 NRSV

Hebrews 12 says we should endure trials as discipline.

But it goes further than that:

I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death…. Phil 3:10 NRSV

… and when they had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. As they left the council they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonour for the sake of the name. Acts 5:40 NRSV

And so the Bible calls upon us to rejoice in suffering, endure it expecting good to come from it, and to feel honoured that we have been considered worthy to do so.

These are challenging words at any time. In the midst of our current culture where suffering is considered an evil to be avoided at all costs, they are jarring.

My ponderings on suffering were challenged when I met a good friend who has recently succumbed to a rare syndrome which has left her in excruciating pain. There is no treatment, the pain is just managed. You’ll be pleased to know that I didn’t say any of the above to her – I listened to her story, we talked about other things, and I prayed for her.

Afterwards I wondered…. How does my friend’s situation fit into what I’ve written here? I have absolutely no idea. However, God says in Romans 8:28 that all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose. My friend and I have the choice of believing what God says and trusting him in this or turning away in unbelief. I believe that God is good and trustworthy and that I can rely on him even when I don’t understand.

Let us reconsider our attitude to suffering and make sure it’s in line with what God has to say. We will be much more in tune with reality if we do, less susceptible to disappointment, and better able to cope with suffering when it comes, as it inevitably will.