Suffering? A Part of God’s Plan?
The hopeful news is that we are nearing the end of the lockdowns and isolation to safeguard us during the current pandemic. All these stringent measures are stressful to all of us. Our North American culture not only encourages us to avoid pain, stress, and suffering of any kind, it also provides many ways of escaping unpleasantness. No wonder this past year drug and alcohol abuse increased noticeably. Other evidence from opiate use, divorce and abortion are also on the rise.
We who are Christians are children of our own culture. We too are tempted to evade troubles and suffering.
We need to remember that Jesus promised that we, as His followers, would have trouble in this world. But he also told us, “Cheer up; I have overcome the world.”
As believers, therefore, we need to realize that we must not avoid trouble and suffering but welcome it. Our loving heavenly Father works out even our suffering to result in good for us.
We sometimes overlook the list of commands in Romans 12: “Do not lack in zeal. Keep your spiritual fervour. Serve the Lord. Be joyful in hope. Be faithful in prayer. Share with other believers who are in need. Practice hospitality.”
We pat ourselves on the back as we check off these seven commands. But there is one more: Be patient in affliction. Huh? Say what? Affliction? Suffering? No way!
Yes, says God. No avoiding trouble. No making yourself feel better with entertainment or drugs. No trying to make it go away faster. Be patient and endure.
Yes, Jo and I Suffered
For more than twenty years, my wife and I immersed ourselves deeply in the critical ministry of translating God’s Word for the Canela people. We volunteered service for God fully expecting Him to provide us with all the health, abilities, and finances we needed and to smooth the way to accomplish this complicated task efficiently and as soon as possible. Not so! Absolutely not so! Our experience was the opposite.
We endured ill health, lacked many abilities, were consistently under-financed. Obstacles of every sort filled our way. Yes, we suffered. I am currently writing the memoir of those decades and Jo and I joked this morning, that we could fill the entire book just with stories of the vehicles that let us down with mechanical troubles at the most inconvenient and even dangerous times.
Jo and I had to learn that not just human efficiency, but also suffering is part of God’s plan. We had calculated it would take twelve to fifteen years in Brazil to complete the research, literacy teaching, and translation work, but took twenty-two years!
God’s Encouragement in Trouble
If it were not for God encouraging us, I would indeed have given up for good. But texts such as “If we suffer, we shall also reign with him” helped us hang in there. (2 Tim. 2:12)
“We glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, character and hope that does not put us to shame.” (Rom. 5: 3-4)
“We are co-heirs with Christ: if indeed we share in his sufferings so that we may also share in his glory.” (Rom. 8:17)
“If you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. (1 Pet. 2:20)
We also took much comfort in the fact that Christ suffered physical pain for us and therefore could strengthen us to endure it. (1 Pet. 4:1). And that we can know Jesus and “the fellowship of his sufferings” (Philippians 3:10). And to “Rejoice in my sufferings, to fill up what is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the (Canela) church.” (Col. 1:24).
The Hardest Part
Some God-haters manipulated the government to exile Jo and me and our colleagues
from the villages where we ministered. When we got our orders to leave, we took courage from Psalm 37:7 “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways when they carry out their wicked schemes.” I’m sorry to say we did not wait patiently those long five years and eight months.
What hurt us the most was that being in exile delayed the time the Canelas would finally get God’s Word to read in their own language. Personal suffering was one thing, but the souls of the Canelas? How could all this delay be God’s plan?
The hard lesson we had to learn was that delays are part of our Eternal God’s plan. He has His own timetable. When God’s Word finally arrived in their language, the Canelas were eager to read it and many became ardent Jesus-followers. Since then, a whole generation of Canelas have been turning to follow Jesus.