“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the
Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who
comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can
comfort those in any trouble with the comfort
we ourselves have received from God.”
(II Corinthians 1:3-4)
Thoughts… Why do we suffer? The easy, theological answer is that we live in a world broken by sin, and the sad fruit of sin is suffering. However, suffering was not a part of God’s original plan for human beings, nor will it be permitted in the glorious age to come. But in the meantime, since sin entered the human race through Adam’s sin, suffering will be a part of the human story until the Day of Redemption ushers in that eternal age.
At a personal level, however, quick and easy answers do not salve the pain of suffering. When pain hits close to home, all of those nice, neatly packaged theological explanations go out the window. For sure, they are still true, but they don’t take away our heartache. When there is a tragic death, or a disheartening diagnosis, or a rebellious child, or the unexpected loss of a job and our heart cries out, “Why God? Where are you in all of this?” the last thing we need to hear is, “Well, because Adam sinned, sin entered the human race and now suffering is just the natural part of being human…blah, blah, blah.” We hurt, and at that moment, life stinks!
Yet in hindsight, our experience of suffering reminds us that a depth of character and a quality of life have been produced in us that would not have been otherwise possible. Through our disappointment and pain, we have gained some priceless treasures. One of those priceless treasures that Paul speaks of in these verses is the discovery of a wonderful dimension of God that cannot be experienced apart from pain: “the God of all comfort.” How would we know what his comfort is unless we really needed his comforting?
That has certainly been true for me. My deepest trials have produced my deepest experiences in God. I have learned more about God when slogging through the valley than singing on the mountaintops. I prefer the peaks, mind you, but in hindsight, I would not trade the “valley of the shadow of death” for anything in the world. It is there that I have found “the God of all comfort who comforts me in all my troubles.”
Another of these priceless treasures that Paul mentions here is a greater understanding and empathy for fellow sufferers. The ministry of care and counsel to which each of us has been called is incomplete until we ourselves have found God in our grief.
As I have discovered deeper dimensions of God in painful times, there has also been the forging of a greater ability to understand the pain of others who are going through their own valley. Out of my pain and suffering, I am now able to come alongside them, not as a theologian, but as an empathetic friend and fellow sufferer. I am able to give counsel, comfort and encouragement not from what I learned in a seminary textbook, but from the school of hard knocks. I am able to give aid and comfort with “the same comfort I myself have received from God.”
Why do I suffer? That is not really the best question, is it? The better question is, “how can I find purpose in my suffering?” For the child of God, at the heart of every pain is a purpose. Finding that redemptive purpose requires that I trust him patiently and cooperate with his plan completely. When I find God’s purpose in my pain, I have found a pearl of great price.
Did you know that a beautiful pearl is formed when a grain of sand embeds itself in the wall of an oyster? In its pain and suffering, the oyster secretes a milky substance that coats the grain of sand and makes it bearable. The substance then hardens and there you have a beautiful pearl. You might say that at the heart of every pearl is a pain.
At the heart of your suffering is a pearl of invaluable worth. It is painful to get there, but allow your trust in God and your patience with his sovereign plan to make it bearable, and one day you’ll be truly able to thank God for your suffering.
Prayer… Dear Father, thank you for working everything out for my good and for your glory. I don’t like everything that I go through, but I like what you are producing in me. I’d rather have your perfect plan fulfilled in my life than avoiding the pain that is sometimes a part of that plan. So I will embrace my suffering and lean into you as you develop yet another pearl of great price in my life.
One More Thing… “No pain, no palm; no thorns, no throne; no gall, no glory; no cross, no crown.” —William Penn