The following guest column is by Gladys M. Hunt, author, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

In 1963 Helmut Thielicke, well-known German preacher, visited the United States. When asked by reporters what he considered the most important question of OUT time, especially in America, Thielicke spoke of his concern that Americans did not know how to deal with suffering, that they did not expect suffering to be part of life. He said, “Again and again, I have the feeling that suffering is regarded as something which is fundamentally inadmissible, disturbing, embarrassing and not to be endured.” If life is inconvenient or hard, there are pills and anodynes for everything.

In view of severe drug problems among old and young alike in the last ten years, his comments seem prophetic. Alcohol consumption increases among teens as drug abuse works its way down into elementary schools. While deploring both dope and booze, others regularly consume tranquilizers and pain-killers. It’s un-American to suffer. It spoils our pursuit of happiness.

To our shame, some contemporary evangelism leads people to believe that trusting Jesus will be like taking a giant aspirin. Testimonies of bubbling enthusiasm, where troubles always have a glib, happy ending because of Jesus, increase the expectation that this is what the Christian life is all about. Trust Jesus and be rid of suffering.

But the Bible never promises that. Instead, the words of Jesus and the apostles assure us that we will in fact suffer. How hard it is to hear that; in fact, we prefer not to hear it. We like some of the beatitudes, especially the one about peacemakers being called the children of God. But we don’t linger long over “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kind of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad …” (Matt. 5:11).

Jesus did not deceive his disciples: “In the world you will have trouble.”

God sent Ananias to a blind, submissive Saul with the news of “how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9:16). Later Paul and Barnabas on a missionary journey strengthened and encouraged new disciples with the same word: “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

James writes to believers, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (Jas. 1:2).

After struggling before the Lord, Paul says that his own “thorn in the flesh” became a cause for glorying. He came to the point of saying, “I delight … in difficulties” (2 Cor. 12:10). He insists that those who have been given the righteousness of Christ are able to rejoice in their suffering (Rom. 5:4).

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How can this be? When we suffer we are tempted to ask if God doesn’t love us enough to answer our prayers for deliverance. And the admonishment to rejoice seems to be not in spite of but because of suffering—which confuses us even more.

But verses must not be taken out of context. Our Lord never fools us in calling us to himself. He never said that he would give us a flower-strewn path. He did say, “I will be with you.” Take heart, he said, for I have overcome the world.

We are not called to be stoics or to have a stiff upper lip. Nor are we lured into a kind of nirvana where we do not feel anything. Rather, we are called to a point of view about all of life. Suffering is only one expected ingredient.

Christian faith takes us beyond the immediate pain; it gives us the long look of faith to see Who is in charge and what is the ultimate goal. And that is cause for rejoicing.

Christians are not masochists. We are not glad when bad things happen. That would indeed be a psychological oddity. And some people are like that; they are happy only when they are miserable. Scripture gives no support to such abnormality.

Biblical teaching, and our own experience, tells us that suffering produces. Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope (Rom. 5:4, 5).

For James the joy in suffering is the maturing and completing of our faith. Peter talks about burning off the dross so that faith is proved genuine as gold (1 Pet. 1:7). Suffering does not have pain as its end product, but rather righteousness.

But righteousness does not have very high priority with us. We want our sins forgiven and assurance of heaven, but we resist the process of being made like Jesus. How easily we lie when we sing about being soldiers of the cross. We seldom want to die to that which is earthly in us, let alone suffer for the sake of the Gospel.

I used to think of suffering in fanciful, dramatic, scary scenes. Like being on trial for my faith before some contemporary Festus or Agrippa. It may come to that. But there are many ways to suffer, and most of them are not dramatic. The very ordinariness of the suffering makes it and us less noble.

Situations arise; life is complicated; decisions are made that seem wrong to us; we are misunderstood. Physical problems, job tensions, family crises. And we cry out to God about the pressure and the confusion, only to find that he is more concerned about us than the situation. It is almost in comic relief. He is using our suffering to make us into the people he wants us to be.

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How shallow are those who have resisted suffering! And how superficial the faith of those who haven’t waded in the deep love of Jesus because life was hard!

No wonder the writer to Hebrew Christians said, “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:10, 11).

In a very real sense, suffering actualizes our hope—our hope of sharing the glory of God. “The doom of our greatness,” to quote P. T. Forsyth, is that God wants us to be like Jesus Christ. We will not only be with him in his glory—understanding, appreciating all that is true about him—but we ourselves are “being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).

God is using our suffering to rub off sharp corners, to refine our temperaments, to loosen our hold on what is unworthy, and to implement the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Rejoice that he loves us that much. Be glad that he wants us to be a little breathless for heaven. Be thankful that he never wastes any of our experiences.

“Don’t be surprised, dear friends, at the painful trials you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in Christ’s suffering, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.” So wrote Peter to first-century Christians (1 Pet. 4:12, 13), and it applies to us today.

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