Missing the Point
It is tempting to moralize suffering by adopting the world’s “this for that” mentality. Good people are good and so receive blessing and bad people are bad so they are cursed. The problem with this view is the fact that there are no "good" people, plus Jesus has severed the link between "suffering" and "deserving" once and for all at Calvary.
Recall how Job’s three friends immediately assumed that the reason for his suffering was that he had sowed sin and was reaping the consequences. They failed to realize that life is often much more complex than this simple equation. Later the disciples asked Jesus why a certain man was born blind—was it his sin or his parents? Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinner, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him" (John 9:3). The point is it is reckless theology to assume that your suffering is never due to your own sin, but it is just as reckless to conclude that the reason you are suffering is always due to your own sin.
We also tend to moralize suffering by immediately jumping to the conclusion that we should deserve something FOR our suffering. Suffering becomes a tool for entitlement. We live in a culture where the assumption is that when bad things happen to "good" people, they deserve more good stuff to compensate. What are we entitled to from God, really?
There’s yet another trap here, and that is moralizing suffering by immediately jumping to the conclusion that all occasions for suffering become a way for us to better ourselves. Suffering becomes just a blessed opportunity to learn from our pain and come out on the other end as a better, improved person. Self-help blah blah blah.
Moralize suffering in any way, and you’re likely to miss its point entirely. Truth? You’re not actually managing any of the hardships you find yourself in. What suffering is meant to do is remind us how NOT in control we actually are, how little power we ultimately have, and how much we need God. It reminds us of who we are as well as who God is. God is good and means to bless us no matter what we face. Really, can’t good come through pain?
- Storms keep us from self-reliance and bring us to the presence and power of God.
- Storms keep us broken and dependent.
- Storms discipline us, and they teach us and train us and change us.
- Storms teach us to notice the blessings God brings in this life.
- Storms focus our hearts and minds on the hope we have in the new world, where God will make all things new.
Suffering prepares us for the gospel. The gospel is for those who realize they can't carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. Only when God drives us to the end of ourselves do we begin to see life in the gospel. Only those who see their need for a Savior will recognize a Savior. God can rescue us through pain.
Tullian Tchividjian makes this salient point in his book Glorious Ruin: God is more concerned that we know Him than ensuring we hold onto our half-hearted pleasures of comfort, ambition, and success. So much so that he often allows pain and suffering into our lives to clear the clutter of mute, deaf, and unworthy idols that can never deliver on their promises - even when they are ostensibly good things like health, family, career, success, and status.
The truth is that suffering does not rob us of joy; idolatry does. But if our identity is anchored in Jesus, so that we are able to say "everything I need, I already possess in Him," then suffering will drive us toward our source of joy.