Life is one protracted learning experience saturated with suffering. Suffering is enigmatic, intangible, ubiquitous and intrusive and yet almost all of life’s greatest lessons are obtained through suffering. Life is foisted on us…we do not have the privilege of choosing whether to be born or not. We come into this world in tabula rasa style, as John Locke postulated….that is, with a blank slate; knowing nothing. Then we embark on a journey of learning and experiencing the good, the bad and the ugly not merely from books but from the environment around us even before books are given to us. The free choice God has endowed us with is the agent we employ in deciding how to respond to life’s challenges; whether to cower in resignation or to fight back with true grit on the side of good.
Biblical characters of salient spiritual credentials willingly subjected themselves to the ordeal of life’s learning experience through pain and suffering. For example, the apostle Paul exclaimed unabashedly “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content…” (Philippians 4: 11). Scripture also says that “And all that will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution,” (2 Tim. 3: 12). Then there is this astonishing verse in Hebrews 5:8 which say about Jesus that “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” In actual fact, Jesus was the Ultimate Sufferer. The Word that was in the beginning with God had to learn how to live in the flesh. How much more then should His disciples be willing to suffer while learning to live in the flesh? When we come to Christ we start from the lowest grade. Our Lord prepares a customized life syllabus for each one of us, not without suffering, which can take many forms: it can come as severe chronic temptation, betrayal by individuals close to us, unappreciated acts of kindness, job loss or health challenges… Suffering has its own benefits. It can motivate us to be creative and resourceful. It can also reveal who we are, and can help us develop compassion and empathy for others experiencing similar situations. Suffering can be used to shape our character (James 1: 2-4) and to trust God more. The Bible is also clear in its assertion that we can never reign with Jesus unless we suffer with Him (2 Timothy 2:12). This gives suffering a different hue….