Christ Covenant Quarantine Update #4: Responding to Suffering in These Trying Times
Friends, I’d like to continue what has been a series of weekly messages from the elders of CCC. It’s our hope that these updates minister to your spirits as we all go through these unique and trying times.
For today I’d like to touch on suffering, a topic that’s not merely an abstract theological concept, but one that touches all of us at the very core of our humanity. During times of suffering, our faith is engaged with our emotions in a battle for dominance.
In the midst of this pandemic that we’re in, very few of us, if any, can say we haven’t been impacted negatively in one way or another. We could be affected physically – and though we know of no cases thus far among our members who have tested positive for COVID-19, many are vulnerable to its ravaging effects because of an underlying physical condition, and we also have members in the medical field who put themselves at great risk in service of others. There are folks who have been affected economically – loss of income, a business closure, even perhaps loss of money that we’re counting on for our old age. And then there is a trial that I’m certain affects all of us – the isolation, the separation from people we love, the absence of human interaction. Perhaps in the beginning of this quarantine some of us relished the idea of staying at home and maybe even found it enjoyable. But after a few weeks of that, we could find that it’s no longer enjoyable and we find ourselves in a state of loneliness – even if we have family members who are at home with us. In fact, the effects of prolonged and confined isolation could even cause conflict to develop between family members.
So, what do we make of these trials that we’re going through that are direct consequences of this pandemic? In addressing that question, we turn to the word of God for wisdom. Scripture has plenty to say about suffering. And I suspect that many of us are already aware of these truths. But we tend to forget them, especially when we’re in the middle of a trial – and that is really when we all need to be reminded of them.
Don’t Be Surprised by Suffering
First of all, we shouldn’t be surprised if we experience suffering in whatever form. In 1 Peter 4:12 the apostle wrote, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” Perhaps for many of us, we are at a point in our walk when we are no longer surprised when we suffer. But some of us may struggle with this idea. Maybe in the past you’ve heard that if you’re a Christian, you will be spared. Or maybe you’ve heard the incorrect notion that you’re suffering because you don’t have enough faith. The truth is, according to scripture, everyone will experience suffering in one form or another, including believers.
Remember that Suffering Has a Purpose
Second, pain and suffering are never without a purpose. Many questions arise when we experience suffering. How will we get through this trial? When will it end? Where is God in all this? But perhaps the biggest one of all is this: Why am I suffering? When we are faced with a sense that our suffering has no value or purpose, that feeling can be worse than the pain of the suffering itself. It could be that we are suffering as a direct consequence a specific sin we’ve committed, and in that case God is disciplining us, which really is a form of grace because it’s for the purpose of bringing us back to Himself instead of letting us sink further into sin. Or, it could be an attack from Satan or a test from the Lord. Sometimes the reasons why we are suffering are known to us but more often than not, we don’t know why. Job and the man born blind are two of the more prominent persons in scripture associated with suffering, and while they were in the midst of their trial, they didn’t know why. But they eventually did, and we have the benefit of having explanations from the word. Job was being tested; Jesus said that the man was born blind not as the direct consequence of a sin, but that “the works of God may be displayed in him.”
Pray in the Midst of Suffering
So, how do we respond to the suffering we are experiencing during this pandemic? First and foremost, we pray. God has a plan regarding this pandemic and it is through our involvement in prayer that He draws into His plan, making us part of the solution. And what do we pray for? Well, it’s perfectly legitimate to ask God to deliver us. As Tom mentioned a few weeks back, ask God to hold back this virus. He is sovereign and there is no renegade virus that is not within His control.
We can also ask God for strength and faith to undergo these trials. Would it make a difference to you if, during your suffering, God audibly speaks to you and says “I know what you’re going through and I’ll be with you every step of the way.”? That’s what David reminded himself in Psalm 23 when he wrote “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” We have a savior who is acquainted with our grief and suffering. And our own experience with suffering enables us to minister well to others. The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
Care for Others in Suffering
What does that look like in practical ways? In the past I’ve found that one of the best, if not the best way I could be comforted is for someone to just be there with me physically just to communicate to me that someone cares. Since that is not possible these days, ask God for wisdom on how to do it well, keeping in mind that in our call to comfort others, we are not called to provide answers to difficult questions. Check on other members of our church family and ask them how they’re doing and pray for them and with them – and you could be doing this in the midst of your own suffering.
Friends, we’ve heard it many times that one of our goals as believers is to suffer well, and a big part of that is giving God glory, worship and thanksgiving through our trials. I hope our time together has been helpful, and I know there’s so much more that can be said about this topic. And if you have questions or have concerns that we could pray for, don’t hesitate to email me or any of the other elders or the staff.
God’s blessings on you all.