God never yet forsook in need, the soul that trusted Him indeed. These truly are comforting words of faith and God's grace, especially in light of Romans chapter five: "Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand." It truly is good to "trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight," as the third chapter of Proverbs advises us.
In times of suffering, it may seem as though our paths are crooked, and that God may have forsaken us. Why do we suffer? This is a question that has been asked many times by many people. However the suffering manifests itself, it is unpleasant for us as human beings to endure, and quite often it is downright painful. Why does God allow these unpleasant things to happen?
While reading through my old hymnal years ago, I came across a hymn that referenced a verse from the third chapter of Lamentations. The reference from this relatively obscure and seldom-read book of the Bible seemed out of place, so I decided to read the chapter. Lamentations chapter three teaches quite a bit about suffering. The first twenty verses describe how it feels to suffer, and many individuals can relate to its graphic description. The context of Lamentations is from the Babylonian captivity of Judah. Jerusalem and Solomon's temple were destroyed; Judah's religious practices were put to an end; royalty, clergy, and commoners were slaughtered; the survivors were taken away in exile; and starving mothers were forced into cannibalism. This was suffering at its worst! As verse twenty describes it, anyone's soul would be downcast within them if they went through that experience.
The tone completely changes with the next verse: "Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail." This is Gospel, and echoes of John 3:16! Those first twenty verses are also a foreshadowing of Christ's suffering and dying on the cross for our salvation! Additional words of comfort follow: "Though He brings grief, He will show compassion, so great is His unfailing love. For He does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men. The LORD is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the one who seeks Him." Romans chapter five can add, "We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us." Lamentations chapter three teaches us that although we may suffer at times, by enduring it and trusting in the LORD, He will help us to get through those difficult times. Job chapter thirty-six even tells us that "those who suffer, God delivers in their suffering; He speaks to them in their affliction." And the tenth chapter of 1 Corinthians assures us that "God is faithful; He will not let you be tested beyond what you can bear. But when you are tested, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." God has everything under control, no matter the circumstances, which is very comforting!
That hymn I was alluding to earlier happened to be "Go To Dark Gethsemane." At the close of the second verse, it states, "Shun not suff'ring, shame, or loss; learn of Him to bear the cross." Christ experienced a great deal of suffering, even death, in order to carry out the one great plan of salvation for us. God has plans for all of us as well - that is why He created us. Although we may never know exactly what those plans may be, we must endure any hardships that come our way. Adversity puts our lives in a different light and changes us. Martin Luther once stated that, "Affliction is the best book in my library," meaning that the grim reality of suffering can often be the best teacher. It is good and healthy to search for something positive to come from our sufferings.
Suffering can make us thankful for what we already have, as God's will for us in Christ Jesus is to give thanks in all circumstances. That's according to the fifth chapter of 1 Thessalonians. Suffering can also humble us by showing that we are not in complete control of everything. Multiple verses in Proverbs declare, "Humility comes before honor." In Luke chapter fourteen and other places in the Bible, we read that God will exalt the humble. Martin Luther even points out that, "God creates out of nothing. Therefore, until a man is nothing, God can make nothing out of him." This statement reminds us of Job, especially of his redemption at the end of that book.
Suffering can aid us in witnessing to others, and in comforting those who suffer from afflictions similar to what we have endured. This is illustrated in the very first chapter of 2 Corinthians: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort."
Suffering can test our faith and bring us closer to God. The first chapters of 1 Peter and James remind us, "Though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials, these have come so that your faith - of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire - may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed." And, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him."
There was once a blacksmith walking out in the countryside. He came across some iron ore in a rock outcrop, so he used his pickaxe to remove it from the rest of the rock formation. Swing after swing went the pickaxe into the rock, and at last the blacksmith had the iron ore freed. He took it back to his shop, and put it into a huge furnace. After a long period of extreme heat, the blacksmith removed the iron ore, and began to pound on it with a heavy hammer against a much heavier anvil. After incessant pounding, the iron ore was put back into the furnace to be subjected to more intense fire. Again, the blacksmith removed the iron ore and used the heavy hammer to pound away at it some more. This process of alternating between fire and pounding continued for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, after a final series of pounding, the blacksmith dunked the iron ore into a tank of water. With that, the iron ore cried, "Why do you treat me like this? When you found me, you chipped away at me. Then you kept throwing me into fire and pounding on me. Now you try to drown me! Why have you done all of these things to me?"
The blacksmith replied, "When I found you, you were a rock in the ground. I took you and removed the impurities in you that made you weak, and I shaped you to be useful. When I found you, you were a mere rock, of no use to anyone. Look at yourself now! You are a strong and mighty sword, extremely powerful in my hand!"
Our Heavenly Father often does His work through those who suffer. He strengthens and shapes us in our faith to be more useful to Him through our afflictions. By bearing our crosses, we become better servants to the LORD. Christ bore the biggest cross of all, and He will help us to bear ours. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. In this world we will have trouble. But take heart! Christ has overcome the world!
"We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose." "Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast. To Him be the power for ever and ever. Amen."