Suffering Is No Accident

Randy and Nanci with MaggieI write this on the one-month anniversary of Nanci’s homegoing. Strange to think that our true home is a place we’ve never been. Paul said, “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Philippians 1:23). Yet our eternal home will be on the New Earth where “no longer will there be any curse” and “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him” (Revelation 22:3).

Nanci was my beloved wife for 47 years and my best friend for 54 (we met at age 14 and never dated anyone else since). I recently shared this with a group of men online (it applies to both husbands and wives):

Brothers, cling to your wife, and don’t let a day go by without telling her how much you love her and thank God for her. By God’s grace, I can honestly say I don’t look back at my marriage with regrets. Like all husbands, I have a stupid gene, and I said my share of stupid things. But I also repented, often asked Nanci’s forgiveness, and had the privilege of becoming her primary caregiver, keeping my vows “for better or for worse” and “till death do us part.” 

In her journal, Nanci shared these insights:

Serving God in our suffering is not an assignment given to us by God; it is the natural outcome of the level of trust which has been supernaturally infused into us by God through our study of God. Knowing God causes us to have the perspective which ignites our hearts and controls our actions. But we, in our complacent hearts, often fail to study God. We have other priorities. We don’t feel the need. Then when suffering/trials arise, we are ill-equipped to understand (and therefore not able to gain more understanding) of the good purposes God has for us in it all.

Faith is trust in what you have come to know as true. Faith is not instant. Faith comes from study. Faith comes from testing what you believe to be true.

As I share in today’s blog (from 90 Days of God’s Goodness), we owe it to God, ourselves, and those around us to prepare for suffering. Part of that preparation is choosing to allow suffering to drive us deeper into God’s love.  

Come, O children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
What man is there who desires life
and loves many days, that he may see good?
Keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from speaking deceit.
Turn away from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.
The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous
and his ears toward their cry.
The face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
to cut off the memory of them from the earth.
When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears
and delivers them out of all their troubles.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the Lord delivers him out of them all.

—Psalm 34:11–19, ESV

Many believe that suffering is never God’s will. But this Scripture tells us that it often is. And these verses affirm God’s faithfulness even as we suffer.

A young woman battling cancer wrote me, “I was surprised that when it happened, it was hard and it hurt and I was sad and I couldn’t find anything good or redeeming about my losses. I never expected that a Christian who had access to God could feel so empty and alone.”

Unfortunately, most of us don’t give focused thought to evil and suffering until we experience them. This forces us to formulate perspective on the fly, at a time when our thinking is muddled, and we’re exhausted and consumed by pressing issues. If you’ve been there, you’ll attest to the fact that it’s far better to think through suffering in advance.

Pastor James Montgomery Boice had a clear perspective. In May 2000, he stood before his Philadelphia church and explained that he’d been diagnosed with liver cancer:

Should you pray for a miracle? Well, you’re free to do that, of course. My general impression is that the God who is able to do miracles—and He certainly can—is also able to keep you from getting the problem in the first place. So although miracles do happen, they’re rare by definition.… Above all, I would say pray for the glory of God. If you think of God glorifying Himself in history and you say, where in all of history has God most glorified Himself? He did it at the cross of Jesus Christ, and it wasn’t by delivering Jesus from the cross, though He could have.…

God is in charge. When things like this come into our lives, they are not accidental. It’s not as if God somehow forgot what was going on, and something bad slipped by.… God is not only the one who is in charge; God is also good. Everything He does is good.… If God does something in your life, would you change it? If you’d change it, you’d make it worse. It wouldn’t be as good.

Eight weeks later, having taught his people first how to live and then how to die, Pastor Boice departed this world to “be with Christ, which is better by far” (Philippians 1:23).

Suffering will come; we owe it to God, ourselves, and those around us to prepare for it.

Lord, as I and those I love face hardship and suffering, give me that same sense of your grace and purpose that Pastor Boice enjoyed. Remind me that for those who bow their knees to you in repentance and faith, our present suffering will be replaced by the eternal pleasures of your presence, where joy will be the air we breathe.

Photo by Austin Schmid on Unsplash

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries