on Suffering

One day recently, as I was finishing up my work in the clinic, I returned back to my lab, on the other side of the hospital. As I got into the elevator, an elderly mom and her daughter hopped inside to join me on the journey downstairs. Tears were streaming down the daughter's face. Her elderly mom held her hand and tried to comfort her, but for the moment, she couldn't be comforted. I didn't hear anything else between them, for at this point the elevator opened, and they walked out. As I walked on my way, I said a silent prayer for them, but I never spoke to them. I wanted to put my arms around them, to comfort them, and tell them that the Lord is still caring for them. But I kept silent. I didn't know them.

What caused this daughter's grief, I do not know. I can only guess. Maybe her elderly mother's cancer has spread, or maybe the daughter herself is sick. (I work at a cancer hospital, so I have an educated guess.) Even still, they have touched me more than they have realized.

In my line of work, I tend to see such suffering often. It's not always obvious, as in this case, but I know it's there. Sometimes I can see fear in the eyes of the patients, as they know they have a fight ahead of them. Sometimes I see patients in the halls, and the sickness from chemotherapy is obvious. Sometimes I read about patients who seem to be on the way to recovering, only they take a turn for the worse and die in their fight. I can only imagine what their families are feeling.

I don't know if these patients are Christians, but even if they are, saying to them that "good comes to those who love the Lord" seems sort of hollow to me. It's become the Christianized way of saying, "everything will be okay," when in reality, it may not be so in this life. Christians in the throws of suffering realize the truth in this verse, that God is working for their good, but it is so hard to see in the darkness. Naturally humans tend to want their cup to be taken. They want healing and freedom from pain. But in the Bible we find that this is not the way for the Christian to live:

"Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." Romans 5:3-5
Rejoice in suffering? How radical is this statement! The suffering of which Paul speaks could be struggles with sin, persecution, or degeneration of the body. Obviously, we know that God Himself does not send suffering, it is a result of the Fall and our complete rebellion from God. By His grace and Christ's death on the cross, and by His "pouring out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit" He uses the suffering to bring us to Him and teach us more about Him. And that is no tragedy. What amazing grace!

I don't pretend to know much of anything about suffering. For those interested about the subject, I recommend reading "Desiring God" by John Piper. The last chapter of this book discuss suffering and the Christian response to it. Piper also has co-written an entire book on the subject, entitled "Suffering and the Sovereignty of God." I haven't read it, but if it's like Piper's other books, it would be well worth the read.

beth's signature

5 Comments:

  1. Amy said...
    I've read the suffering chapter in "Desiring God" over and over....I'm hoping to pick up the other book someday soon as I read a very positive review of it on another blog.

    I'll never forget when I was a first year nursing student and one of my "patients" was a Christian woman with terminal cancer. She was an incredible testimony to the hospital staff. One evening I was giving her a back massage and we were chatting. She was very alert, though obviously in pain. The next day when I returned for my shift she had already passed away.

    It was the first time I had ever seen a dead body, and it really brought home the truth that her body was there in the bed, but her spirit was with the Lord.
    Ashley said...
    Beth, what a great post and what a difficult subject! I never know what to say to people who suffer from extreme or constant physical pain. How can a loving God watch His children go through that? I've often wondered that, and I know that as long as we live in this broken, battered world we will always face it.
    Susan said...
    Good post, Beth, and a tough subject. I definitely emphathize with you in just not knowing what to say for comfort to people who are grieving. My spiritual gift is not mercy. I always score the lowest on mercy (and prophecy) on spiritual gift tests. I feel for others, but I don't know how to properly comfort them without feeling and looking awkward :(. But sometimes I think a hug is the best comfort one can give. No words are often better than trite, often-painful words.
    zan said...
    I never know what to say, either, when someone is in pain. I would just sit with my patients and hold their hand. I would also offer my help in any way I can.

    I think actions speak louder than words.
    Anonymous said...
    Regarding "good comes to those who love the Lord..."

    I reflected on this on great deal since my father died 6 years ago--and I still reflect on it. It sounds trite at first reading. Its real meaning, I think, is far more mystical. Just as the "Church" is made of people, not bricks and morter, "those" in the above Bible excerpt include the multitudes, not the individual.

    To be more concrete....my father's death was anguised, and I was traumatized to see the poor care he received. The experience led very directly to my pursuit of specialization as a hospice and palliative care NP, and I KNOW I've brought to others the comfort and peace that my own father was denied. So his, and my own, love of God and his Church, despite our suffering (and I would argue, because of it), has led to some relief of suffering (the "good") of others. In this way, I believe my own father shared in Jesus's suffering on the cross.

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