It has been said that God will never put more on someone than he/she can bear. Advocates of this view may appeal to the biblical story of Job, which is one of the most astounding accounts of divine sovereignty in the entire Bible. Job, regarded as a righteous man of God, encountered more pain and suffering in one day than most people will be subjected to in their entire lifetime. Nevertheless, he was determined to remain faithful to God no matter what, even as he acknowledged that his seemingly gratuitous suffering was ultimately from the hands of God (Job 13:15).
No doubt, suffering has a way of making us think, reflect, and reexamine our lives and our priorities. Pain, whether emotional or physical, gets our attention like nothing else. Yet, when it comes, our default response is typically one of avoidance at all costs. This is somewhat understandable; after all, even Jesus Christ Himself, speaking from His human nature, desired to avoid the pain of the cross (Matt. 26:39). If the Son of Almighty God had an aversion to suffering, how much more will those whom He has created?
In my first book entitled Challenging Reflections on the Christian Life, one of the topics I addressed was the prevalence of Christian discouragement. I noted that God will often times bring His people to the absolute end of themselves for some divine purpose. In fact, consider the biblical figures Job and Jeremiah, known as the weeping prophet. There are at least two things these men had in common. First, both of them faced such depression that they considered death. This was unambiguously expressed in their regrets over being born (Job 3:11; Jer. 20:14). Also, despite their depression, both were in the center of God’s will. Incidentally, I wish I could say that I could not relate to their sentiments, but I can.
In my 20+ years as a follower of Christ, I have experienced more heartache, grief and sleepless nights in the last year than all others combined. As you can imagine, I have pondered the familiar ‘why’ question, only to be met at times with divine silence. Even as I write this, the suffering is not over; in some ways, it may simply be in the process of transitioning into the next phase.
Albeit I know the Lord is with me, sometimes life in the valley makes it hard to connect what is known in the mind with what is felt in the heart. While I anticipate the day that peace and relief will be my reality, I must admit that this journey has truly consisted of eye-opening experiences on several levels.
What about you? Are you currently living in the valley, not knowing what the outcome of a threatening situation will be? Has your passion for God subsequently waned, only to find yourself pleading to the Lord to restore the joy of your salvation (Psa. 51:12)? If so, you are certainly not alone. It is not uncommon for God’s servant to reach such a low point that he/she becomes tempted to throw in the towel.
Perhaps there are things for us to learn in the valley that cannot be learned elsewhere. Maybe God is after all more concerned with our holiness than our happiness; hence the suffering. It could be that the problems we face are in some ways designed to realign our focus on eternity, where there will be “no more pain” (Rev. 21:4). Whatever the reason for our suffering, our response to it should reflect the maturity expected of us and demonstrated by those who came before us (i.e. Job, Jeremiah, Jesus, etc.). If it does, we can rest assured that while we may be temporarily living in the valley, the Lord is right there beside us, comforting us along the way (Psa. 23:4).
What must we do in times like these?
1) Focus on Jesus. This is not a trite cliché, but rather, an appeal to the greatest solution in existence. If you have trusted the Lord for salvation, you can trust Him for your life’s direction. Surely, sometimes our deepest hurts channel the deepest awareness of God’s love and grace.
2) Connect with others. We are not meant to live in isolation. In fact, the numerous “one another” clauses in the New Testament establish the necessity of personal relationships. If you have not already done so, let someone into your life who has godly wisdom, sensitivity and a commitment to uphold and apply biblical teaching to your situation. We are called to “bear one another’s burdens” so allow some friends the blessing of honoring Christ in this way (Gal. 6:2).
3) Endure. Paul encouraged his young protégé Timothy to “endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:3), and we must do the same. Certainly, this is easier said than done, but this is our only option. After all, quitting is not in the blood of the true believer. For instance, Joseph did not turn away from God when he was sold into slavery by his brothers, slandered by Potiphar’s wife, and spent several years in prison for a crime he did not commit (Gen 37, 39). To the contrary, we are told repeatedly that the Lord was with Joseph during his times of extreme, unmerited suffering (Gen. 39:2, 21, 23). Remember, our ultimate example is Jesus, who “endured the cross” as well as “endured…hostility from sinners” (Heb. 12:2-3). Just as our Leader endured intense suffering and pain, so too must we withstand the trials we face, for His spirit dwells within us (Rom. 8:9-11).
Thankfully, life in the valley does not last forever. Yes, the day is coming when suffering will be no more. Until then, let us consider two possible benefits of enduring our time of suffering: maybe it will produce more growth and maturity in our devotion to Christ; perhaps we will become better equipped to help others through their struggles. As I reflect on my own experience, these possible benefits are my desires. If they are indeed fulfilled, then my time living in the valley will not have been in vain.