Readers of my blog know how much I love and admire Joni Eareckson Tada, who has now spent 55 years as a quadriplegic. Joni, reflecting on what was then forty years in a wheelchair, once told me, “I’ve learned that suffering is messier than I once thought.” And yet God has used her to profoundly impact countless lives, for His glory. Including my life and Nanci’s.
Joni has a new book, Songs of Suffering: 25 Hymns and Devotions for Weary Souls. In honor of her book, Crossway produced a touching 13-minute video of her talking about suffering. In it, Joni says, “Suffering is meant to press us up against Jesus. It’s not so much about us...it’s about how I can hear His heartbeat and identify with Him in His sufferings.” And, “My paralysis is about knowing Jesus better.”
This is vintage Joni:
Joni’s words remind me of C. S. Lewis’s famous quote: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
My friend Jim Harrell, reflecting on how his slow death from ALS was helping him to discover real life, wrote me, “Suffering is the icy cold splash that wakes us up from the complacency of living this life. We truly don’t see God and His purpose and strength without suffering, because we just become too comfortable.”
Paul wrote, “I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed” (2 Corinthians 7:8–9). God intended to help these erring believers by drawing them back to Him through their pain.
Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31). We need a cure, and that may require nasty-tasting medicine, painful surgery, and rigorous physical therapy.
In 2019, my wife Nanci, who died March 28, 2022, wrote to a friend also suffering from cancer:
The cancer battle has been tough. However, my time with the Ancient of Days (one of my favorite names for God) has been epic! He has met me in ways I never knew were possible. I have experienced His sovereignty, mercy, and steadfast love in tangible ways. I now trust Him at a level I never knew I could.
I saw firsthand what God did in Nanci though her suffering, and I know what He has done in me through mine. Richard Baxter wrote, “Suffering so unbolts the door of the heart, that the Word hath easier entrance.” God uses suffering to bring us to the end of ourselves and back to Christ.
And that is worth any cost.For more related to the subject of suffering, see Randy’s book If God Is Good, as well as the devotional 90 Days of God’s Goodness and book The Goodness of God. Also, the booklet If God Is Good, Why Do We Hurt? deals with the question and shares the gospel so that both unbelievers and believers can benefit.