Facing Suffering with Joy
Based on Deep Waters of the Disciple by Michael Cassidy
God has promised wonderful things to his children. Salvation from sin. The hope of eternal life. The constant presence of the Holy Spirit. But there is one thing God has never promised us: that our lives will be free from suffering.
On the contrary, as we live in a broken, fallen world, we can be confident that we will feel great, sometimes even overwhelming pain. The ache of losing someone you love. The cold chill of doubt. The poison numbness of depression. The grinding throb of sickness. The slow agony of divorce. Ultimately, even the sting of death.
Ever since Adam and Eve chose to rebel against God, choosing their own ways over the ways of God, the world has been opened up to all kinds of evil. Pain, grief, and suffering are a daily reality for us. No one can escape the sin and death that have ravaged nature. No one is exempt. Not even Christians are bulletproof. It is not merely possible, but certain that we too will walk through the deep waters of suffering. Though it is common (and natural) to think that giving your life to God will means you will have a happy, prosperous life, the example of Scripture tells a different story.
Paul languished for years in prison. Thomas was wracked by doubt. Jeremiah’s life’s work failed to save Jerusalem from destruction. Elijah grew so discouraged that he asked God to kill him. Job lost everything he had. Jesus himself—the most righteous person ever to live—suffered loss, rejection, grief, persecution, mockery, and even death. Suffering comes for us all. Nothing we can do will change that. But we can change how we respond to suffering.
Michael Cassidy is well acquainted with this truth. In his recent book Deep Waters of the Disciple, Michael shares wisdom from over 85 years of experiencing life’s ups and downs, including battling Leukemia.
With pastoral compassion, Michael writes, “The point … is not what circumstances do to us, but what we do to them. Will we allow them to be miserable, distressing, and disruptive intruders, to be resented? Or will we reinterpret them positively as friends with something to teach us?”
Welcoming suffering… as a friend? Embracing it as a chance to learn? This doesn’t make any sense. Doesn’t suffering mess up our lives, cause brokenness, and fill us with sorrow? Suffering is certainly not pleasant. But it can be incredibly healthy for our souls.
James, Jesus’ brother, tells us, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow” (James 1:2-3 NLT).
According to James, suffering should be accepted with nothing less than rejoicing. This reaction feels deeply unnatural to us. Suffering fills our hearts with pain. It upends our world, making our lives seem uncertain and frightening.
But God can use even great suffering for our good. Michael points out, “In contrast to the popular myth, God is more interested in our character than our comfort, more interested in whom we become than what we get, and more interested in what we need than what we want.”
God wants more for us than we want for ourselves. He doesn’t want us to merely live comfortable lives, free from any pain or challenge. Instead, he wants us to become like him. The greatest pains and agonies we experience can refine our hearts like gold through fire, helping us honour God just a little bit more. The suffering that fills our lives is not meaningless or futile, but an incredible opportunity to draw nearer to God.
Such an incredible opportunity, in fact, that James tells us to rejoice!
Of course, suffering is still terrible. It is a consequence of the Fall, a result of the lingering effects of sin, and will one day be destroyed by God for ever. Grief, anger, and asking questions of God are acceptable—even biblical—responses to suffering (just read the Psalms).
But God can turn even the worst pains into the greatest joys. He proved this on the cross, turning the execution of Jesus Christ into the ultimate victory over death.
So when suffering comes your way, don’t lose hope. Don’t despair. Know that you are held and loved by the God who knows what it’s like to suffer. And even in the depths of suffering, rejoice that God is at work.
Deep Waters of the Disciple by Michael Cassidy will be out soon.