When Joseph was thrown into the pit by his own brothers, I’m sure there was some clawing and scraping at the sides of it to try to get out… but there was no escape.
When he was sold to the traders on their way to Egypt, I’m sure there was some begging and pleading and serious efforts to wrest himself from the chains… but no one’s heart stirred to relent, and he was hauled away.
And when he was unjustly thrown into prison, I’m guessing there were some pleas and cries for justice… but bars and locks only mocked his appeals.
When Job learned that all of his possessions and ten children were gone in a succession of calamities that would make anyone’s heart faint – his did.
The raw reality of human suffering is not meant to be sugar coated with platitudes and “sticker-verses” that make the speaker feel better but not the sufferer. But it is meant for something.
Suffering is agonizing. It is life-stealing. Suffering is loss of the most intimate kind and produces groans too deep to understand.
But it is also good.
We may suffer evil, but the suffering itself is good.
We may fight and claw at it. We may plead with God for it to stop. We may cry and rail against the injustice inherent in much of it. And almost always, our hearts grow faint under the weight of it. But in the end, those of us who are called by King Jesus, must greet it as the good gift it is intended to be – that it actually must be – because of the One who has placed it in our lives.
The struggle is real, and it is part of the process we all need to go through to learn what we need to learn from the suffering. But eventually, if we are to gain anything at all from pain and sorrow and loss, the struggle against it needs to stop. We must all – every one of us – come to the place where we can hold that burden of struggling against the trial, look at it with full-frontal, honest scrutiny and lay it down.
If we believe what we say we believe – that for those who love God all things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28) – then this, too – this suffering, was meant for our good. If we believe that 1 Cor 4:17 is true – that our sufferings are producing an eternal glory that far outweighs them all – then we can begin to see that God is giving us something better than we would have even imagined to ask for. If we believe what Eph 3 says – that this is the very way that we are strengthened to be able to comprehend the love of God – then we can see this as a gift from our Father who says, “I want you to know me this deeply, and widely, and broadly, and for this long.” And that none of these things can separate you from that love (Rom 8:35).
If all of these things are true – really, actually, undeniably true – then we can begin to loosen our grips on the hair roots that promise to lift us out of the pit but never deliver, and the shackles that delight to keep our minds and bodies enslaved, the prison walls that mock our broken hearts, and even the soul-rending cries that long for good to be restored… and cling instead to these promises of God for our deliverance.
We can lay down the struggle against it all. We must. Or we miss the good that is inherent in it and we miss the good that only comes from believing and trusting Him through it.
This isn’t a decision that someone else gets to make for you, beloved sufferer. No one can tell you when it is time to cast your burden aside. The only words that can help you are the ones that help you get to the end of your struggle – not avoid it. You and I, each in our time, must struggle through the suffering. We may feel alone, but our Savior, who is able to sympathize with our grief because he has borne the same, has promised to never leave us or forsake us. He is patient, though and will wait for you to lay down the burden of struggling against his good gift on your own.
We are not wrong to rail against the evil in this world. We are not silly to want love to prevail. We are not idealistic fools to long for peace and joy and goodness to be reality. God agrees. But God’s path for us to see and know and live those things is not the path that we would choose. There are no shortcuts for mercy. There are no detours that bring peace.
If we are to experience the full measure of God’s ultimate gift for us – Himself – we must do things his way. We must accept that he knows what we do not and that his hard path is better than going the wrong way, no matter how tempting it may be.
We learn how strong God is through the struggle, but we learn how good he is when we lay it down.