Today’s guest blogger is Heather Rice. She is an oncology nurse, with degrees also in linguistics and biblical counseling. Besides counseling at her church, she enjoys hiking, languages, linguistics, Bible study, and her church.
Part 3 of 4
Editor’s Note: This series on suffering was written months ago. By God’s providence, the timing of online posting coincides with a related and tragic current event, that of the planned suicide of Brittany Maynard. She wants to avoid suffering from terminal cancer. Her choice is being lauded as a virtue and courageous.
What compassion we must hold toward her! However, compassion does not negate reality. Her planned suicide actually expresses a demand to be free of suffering–natural, but not an act of courage.
Nor is it virtuous. Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” Suicide acts in direct opposition to this counsel. It expresses a demand, not a request but a demand, to have death on one’s own terms rather than God’s. It indicates a rejection of the sovereignty of God.
As an oncology nurse, Heather works with people suffering from cancer. Sometimes they ask, “Why?” which, for the purpose of writing this series, she generalized to, why is there suffering? Causes are discussed here.
God has good purposes for it, and if we reject them we sabotage our own benefit. The ultimate answer of answers is a who rather than a why–Jesus Christ. This is what Brittany is missing. She does not accept Him as her solution. Suicide will literally snuff out opportunities that she could have to experience the fellowship and sufficiency of Christ. I hope and pray that Brittany will reconsider and turn to Christ before she faces the eternity that follows death.
So we raise a critical question: If God doesn’t relieve our suffering when we want, why should we submit to Him? After all, what kind of God would allow suffering?
This is at the heart of questions posed at the end of the previous post. If God ordains, or even simply allows suffering, how can He be good? Is there any good in suffering? At this point, I return to Heather’s series:
Puritan pastor J.C. Ryle offers a gentle answer: “I ask all who find it hard to reconcile the prevalence of disease and pain with the love of God to observe the extent to which men constantly submit to present loss for the sake of future gain.” For example, my cancer patients daily submit themselves to fatigue and nausea in order to gain cure. Ryle continues, “I ask men to apply this great principle to God’s government of the world. I ask them to believe that God allows pain, sickness, and disease, not because He loves to vex man, but because He desires to benefit man’s heart, and mind, and conscience, and soul, to all eternity” (2005, p. 6-7).
What could possibly be worth the pain?
First, suffering reminds us of our mortality and human frailty. It blares, “You are not a superhero like you see in the movies; you are human, a fragile, limited human.” Suffering brings us to the end of ourselves, so that we learn to live dependent upon God. It is those who are spiritually bankrupt, hungry and mourning whom God calls blessed because they look to God as their satisfaction and sufficiency. Christ often shines brighter in our weaknesses than our strengths (Matthew 5:3-6; 2 Corinthians 12:10).
Second, suffering and sickness tend to soften us toward spiritual matters and humble us. Suffering sometimes opens an ear that was otherwise shut tight against the truth of God. Would you be seeking God as zealously now if you were not experiencing suffering? God let his people, Israel, hunger so that they would be more willing to listen to Him (Deuteronomy 8:3).
Third, suffering and death reveal the heart. Ryle, who visited many sick beds, pointed out that, “Many a creed looks well on the smooth waters of health, which turns out utterly unsound and useless on the rough waves of the sick-bed” (p. 9). Like a good football coach who makes his players run miles, God uses suffering to strengthen and purify [the Christian’s] faith. Rather than fret and fight against Him, be glad that He is acting like a loving father toward you by disciplining you. You can look forward to the peaceful fruit of righteousness God promises to those He disciplines (Hebrews 12:3-13).
Fourth, suffering teaches [the Christian] to hate sin. As Estes and Tada say, for the believer, “human suffering in this life is merely the splashover from hell…By letting us struggle with the remnants of a sinful nature, and by letting us know pain, [God] reminds us of the hell we are being saved from” (1997, p. 170). Sin is so bad that one bite of fruit in Eden overflowed the world with pain and death for millennia and the only cure is the death of God’s Beloved Jesus Himself. If you realize that the same evil behind the Holocaust envenoms your own hidden sins, you will hate them more.
Fifth, suffering is a tool God uses to conform [His children] to the image of His Son (Romans 8:28-29). God has sanctified suffering to do you good. Conformity to Christ’s death means that suffering is a way to share in Jesus’ own experiences (1 Peter 4:13). God matures character through trials, just as He did for Jesus (Hebrews 5:8; cf. James 1:2-4). Jesus’ resurrection is the guarantee and foretaste of the hope that the best is yet to come (1 Corinthians 15:50-57; Philippians 1:21).
Ryle, J. C. (2005). Sickness. Kingsford, Australia: Matthias Media.
Tada, Joni Eareckson & Estes, Steven. (1997). When God Weeps. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing.