So, just for grins, let’s talk a little about suffering. Over at Internet Monk, they’re having a great discussion about Glorious Ruin, which I haven’t read yet because I’m still on the waiting list at the library (no, that’s not the suffering I’m talking about), and it got me thinking.
In the last month or so, my headache issues have been a lot worse than usual (mostly from when I fell and hit my head), so the whole “suffering” thing is on the front burner again. There’s the question of why we suffer. Books have been written on that subject. God allows us to suffer because we live in a world broken by sin. Sure, He could remove all of our physical and emotional pain, but He chooses not to.
Why? That’s the big question. If God loves me and wants the best for me, why does He let me suffer chronic headaches and the attendant emotional pain and distress? Did I bring it on myself by not being a good enough person? If I could sin less, would I have less pain? Perhaps. Sometimes we do have a hard time because of bad choices that we make. But, we all know good people who seem to have really rotten luck and some really bad people who seem to skate through life. The correlation between actions and pain is hardly perfect.
What interested me, though, in the book club post was the idea of the “Oprah-fication” of our suffering – that is, the idea that our suffering exists to teach us something, to make us better people. While I think that God does use all kinds of circumstances to teach us, I’m concerned that when I focus on “what I am supposed to learn today” all the time, I’m really shining the light back on myself. Pain and suffering far too easily become an excuse for me to become narcissistic. I end up thinking about and praying about my own “spiritual growth” as if it is God’s primary goal of the universe.
Yes, the Bible tells us that “And we know that in all things God works for the good(A) of those who love him, who[a] have been called(B) according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28). But, does that mean that everything that happens to me is focused on me? Is God using my headache pain and suffering just to teach me something? Or might there something bigger (or smaller) going on? Is it even about me?
My concern is that I don’t become so self-focused that I forget that the rest of the world exists. Yet, I don’t think that denial of real pain is helpful, either. There has to be a middle ground of accepting the pain and suffering of life’s circumstances while not wallowing in self-pity.
I think this is where focusing on walking with Jesus comes in. It’s more important to “fix our thoughts” on Jesus (Hebrews 3:1) in the everyday circumstances than to try to see what God is trying to teach me this instant. Instead of asking what God wants to teach me about having a good attitude with teenagers even when my head hurts, maybe I just need to pray for more patience to show those teenagers how much I love them. Maybe God’s plans are better than mine. After all, Isaiah 55:9 says “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
What do you think? How should we think about pain and suffering?