The Point of Suffering

By Robin Schumacher

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Conformed to the Image of Christ

So suffering builds character, grants us power even when we are weak, but is there still more we can learn about this issue? I think there is.

If you ask most Christians about their personal "life goal," many will say in one way or another: I just want to be like Jesus. This sentiment is reflected in a song that's not sung much in today's churches:
Lord make me like You
Please make me like You
You are a servant, make me one too
O Lord I am willing, do what You must do
To make me like You Lord
Just make me like You

"Make Me Like You"; Heritage Singers
It's a noble goal and one that Scripture says God will accomplish: "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son" (Romans 8:29). But have we thought much about what that "conformation" process involves? Glance back and forth between the short song above and this Old Testament description of Jesus' life:
He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities, the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed...But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. He was oppressed and He was afflicted...By oppression and judgment He was taken away...But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief" (Isaiah 53:3-10).
So how about it — do you still want to be made like Jesus? If so, are you willing to go through suffering like He did?

Of Christ's painful life events, the writer of Hebrews tells us, "Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered" (Hebrews 5:8). Maybe it was this verse that prompted Dorothy Sayers to write: "For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is — limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death — He had the honesty and courage to take His own medicine."[3]

Why Me?

In the movie, Captain America: The First Avenger, Steve Rogers (Captain America) is sitting on a military bunk with Dr. Abraham Erskine, the doctor who will turn Rogers into a super hero the next day. Rogers is asking Erskine why — given he is so weak and small compared to literally everyone else — he was chosen for the task.

Erskine tells him that it is because of the goodness that is in him; a goodness that the very weakness Rogers possesses and dislikes has produced. Erskine answers Rogers' question by saying, "Because a weak man has respect for power...and he has compassion."

These are attributes that the Bible tells us God values greatly. Compassion? Jesus reminded the religious leaders, "I desire compassion" (Matthew 10:7). Respect and discipline with power? "For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline" (2 Timothy 1:7).

Could it be that these qualities are only transmitted through trials and suffering? Perhaps. Maybe this is why Peter tells us that it is God's will that suffering occur: "Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right" (1 Peter 4:19; my emphasis).

Maybe it's true that, as Philip Yancey says, suffering will always be "the gift that nobody wants".[4] But I think one day all of us who go through difficult trials (which is everyone) will look back, either in this life or in eternity, and genuinely thank God for the faith, discipline and compassion that pain and grief hardwired into our souls. Time will tell.

[3] Dorothy L. Sayers, Christian Letters to a Post-Christian World (Grand Rapids, MI: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1969), 14, quoted by Yancey, 233.
[4] Phillip Yancey, Where is God When it Hurts? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1977), pg. 11.

Image Credit: Dan Mumford; "Jonnie Peacock, Alan Oliveira and Rio Woolf"; Creative Commons; Little Rio Woolf had his leg amputated when he was 14 months old. His hero, gold medal-winning Jonnie Peacock (center), not only arranged to get Rio a blade so he could run, he also gave him hope.

TagsBiblical-Truth  |  Christian-Life  |  Depression  |  Hardships  |  Sin-Evil

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Published 9-29-14