On our way to a family reunion, Abbie, our 3-year-old granddaughter, developed strep throat. The doctor we consulted suggested an antibiotic injection. Before the shot, I explained to Abbie what was going to happen, and in complete trust and obedience; she lay down on the examining table and exposed her little bottom. I held her hand and watched the surprise in her eyes when the needle entered. She puckered up, squeezed my hand and began to cry. Although her suffering was brief (she was enjoying a jelly bracelet and a Popsicle two minutes later), it broke my heart. I worried that she would never trust me again like she had before.
I not only allowed Abbie to suffer, but I took care to make sure it happened. Why? Because I knew that temporary suffering would heal her illness. And Abbie’s suffering wasn’t just for her benefit, but also for the benefit of others. Strep throat could have spread through the family if it wasn’t decisively addressed.
Because of my love for Abbie, she experienced suffering that brought about a greater good. And it is because of God’s great love for us that we experience suffering. Our world tells us that if we love someone, we’ll do anything to keep them from experiencing pain. But God’s love sees beyond today through to eternity. In his infinite love, he knows what we need to experience to become the men and women he created us to be. Suffering demonstrates the sufficiency of God’s grace.
Paul tells us that our “light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison….” (2 Corinthians 4:17) But it is difficult to see suffering as “light” and “momentary” when we are in the middle of it. To help with that Paul goes on to remind us to “look not to things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (verse 18) Suffering loosens our grip on this world, and helps us value the glory of eternity.
Scripture teaches us that suffering builds endurance (James 1:2-4) and helps us surrender to the work of the Holy Spirit as he transforms us into the image of Christ. Suffering gives us the opportunity to reach for the comfort of our heavenly Father who then equips us to bring comfort to others (II Corinthians 1:3-4). If we surrender to God and are obedient in our suffering, we are walking in the path of our Savior who was obedient, even to death (Philippians 2:8-11).
Resist the temptation to blame God or question his love when suffering comes your way. Trust him like Abbie trusted me. Hold his hand, cry your heart out, but obey. He is doing a great work in you. His love for you can be trusted. It will last for an eternity.