Have you ever experienced this? You begin thinking about a topic, and suddenly, that topic, whatever it is, is all around you? People are talking about it, Pastors are preaching about it, and the books you read are focusing on it?
That is what has happened to me lately. I have been contemplating the subject of suffering. I know, not the most joyous of subjects. And yet, I have personally been going through a time of suffering in my family, for what seems like a VERY LONG season. As it continues on and on and on, I have begun thinking about suffering a lot. Most people in the western world don’t like to think about or even recognize suffering. They either pretend it isn’t happening to them, or just hold on, gritting their teeth, until it’s over.
Well, I don’t think God is giving me that option. I’ve decided that since our season of suffering is turning into years, I am obviously going to need to make good use of this time. I am hoping God will be able to use it for my GOOD. (Romans 8:28)
I recently read a passage entitled “Suffering: The Servant of Our Joy,”* written by Timothy Keller, one of my favorite Christian authors. I came upon this passage in the book Be Still, My Soul: Embracing God’s Purpose and Provision in Suffering.** I received the book at my church’s women’s retreat, where one of the topics was . . . you guessed it . . . suffering.
In this passage, Tim Keller says he once had a horrible nightmare where every member of his family was killed in a terrible way. He woke up in the middle of the night panting from the nightmare. He says, “It was as if I had lost my family and awakened to discover I had them back. I wanted to wake them all up and hug them. I loved them before the nightmare, but not like I did after the nightmare.”
He says the joy of finding them wasn’t a joy in spite of the nightmare, but a joy enhanced by the nightmare. The nightmare actually made him love his family more!
Then he says that heaven will be like that. Yes, heaven will be everything we wished for but never had. But, the sufferings we experienced here on earth will make heaven even more glorious BECAUSE of the nightmare we call life that we will awaken from when we arrive in heaven. As Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 4:17:
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
Keller says to understand this, we have to “fix our eyes on” this future glory, which takes discipline, especially when we are suffering. If we do this, he says, it will “pulverize our discouragement.”
He tells us:
- “Don’t just accept suffering – because God doesn’t want it.
- Don’t just avoid suffering – because God can use it.
- Don’t just embrace suffering – because it is evil.
Instead, enjoy the hope that suffering is going to be engulfed, swallowed up. The evil that hurts us now will be the eventual servant of our joy and glory eternally.”
I am doing my best to remember this during my dark moments. Is this hope something you can also hold onto in yours?
*Adapted from “Christian Hope and Suffering,” a sermon by Tim Keller given at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, May 16, 2004. Copyright by Timothy Keller, 2008.
Nancy Guthrie, editor, Be Still, My Soul: Embracing God’s Purpose and Provision in Suffering (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 21-22.