It is a mystery in the minds of many why Christian people often have to suffer. With all the promises of physical healing, they still are many times in pain, notwithstanding God's faithfulness and his omnipresence. They also suffer temptations, persecutions, and soul-conflicts. How can we explain these things? How can we harmonize these with the teachings of a loving God? When we read Paul's experience, we find it largely a record of privation and suffering, of sorrow and heaviness. It is true that in it all there is a note of joy and an unquenchable shout of victory, but nevertheless soul, mind, and body often had to endure the lash of pain. Did God love him? Why, then, must such things be?
God loved Christ with a perfect love, but we read that |although he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth, yet it pleased Jehovah to bruise him; he hath put him to grief| (Isa.53: 9, 10, A.S.V.). What strange language! He had done no evil, he was guilty of nothing, and yet |it pleased the Lord to bruise him.| Is it true that love is tender, the tenderest of all things, and yet can bruise and find pleasure in it? But this is just what happened. Jesus, the innocent Lamb of God, was |smitten, stricken of God.| When we remember Gethsemane, the crown of thorns, the cruel cross, it does not seem an act of love for God to give his Son over to such suffering; yet it was love, truest love. Why did God thus deal with him? It was not because the Father-heart did not feel that agony. It was the only means to an end, and love desired that end so much that it pleased it to make the great sacrifice that out of it might come the infinite joy of a world's redemption.
There is nothing that brings Christ so close to men as his sufferings; there is nothing that makes men trust in him so much as the story of those last days. If that story were taken from the pages of the Bible, what would Christ be to us? Only a great teacher whose morality was high and wonderful, though to us unattainable; but with this record added, he becomes a Savior and makes his righteousness attainable by us all. Had he not suffered, he could not have brought us to God. How much poorer we should be today without the story of Gethsemane and Calvary, without knowing that |it pleased the Lord to bruise him| and that out of his sighs and tears and groans has flowed into our hearts a fountain of joy and love and tenderness whereby we have been enriched and the angels of God have been caused to sing a song for joy!
If God was pleased to bruise his own beloved Son, need we marvel if he is sometimes pleased to bruise us? If we are sometimes bowed down with grief, if anguish takes hold upon us, if the sky grows dark above us, and if God seems to have turned away, is it any proof that he no longer loves us? Is it not only the proof that God sees something to be accomplished that can be accomplished in no other way, and that he is pleased for the sake of that gain to let us suffer? The things that are worth while come through pain. Joy does not make us stronger nor bring us nearer God; nor does it refine, ennoble, or enrich us. The pure gold comes from the fire only and the tempered steel also must have passed through the flame. God would have us pure as gold and as strong as steel, and to have us so he can not spare the flame. We must pass through the furnace of affliction. We are told that God |doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men| (Lam.3: 33). It is only that something may come out of it that will be better and more blessed than could have been without it.
We know in reality only what we know by experience. Those who would be instruments in God's hands to help others must often have a preparatory training-course in the school of suffering; how else could they know how to help others? Brother, sister, has God called you to do a work for him? If so you need not marvel if he lets the rod of pain be laid upon you. If you have hindrances which seem to shut up the way before you, if you have trials that you can not understand, if you have disappointments and perplexities, if you have spiritual conflicts that threaten to overwhelm you, do not think it strange. How can you teach others how to bear such things if you have not borne them? How can you know the way out for others if you have never gone that way? How can you teach others to look for the blessings in these things if you have not their fruitage in your own life? Those who have suffered most can enter most into the sufferings of others.
The successful worker will find that the strength and wisdom that bring him success was the gift of pain, and had not pain brought him strength and knowledge, success could not now be his. Likewise sometimes we must suffer for others if we would save them. So if you would be a worker for God and know how to enter truly into the sorrows and needs of others, you must yourself drink the bitter cup and feel the chastening rod.
After the Lord called me to his work, I endured some great soul-conflicts. In them I suffered inexpressibly. I almost despaired at times, but I look back upon those things now as being the things that made me understand the human heart, that gave me a broader sympathy, and that have since enabled me to enter into the sorrows and needs of others and to minister comfort and help as I could not otherwise have done. Those early sufferings unlocked a thousand mysteries and enriched not only my own life but also the lives of others. Endure these things with patience; for out of them will come to you that which is more precious than gold. If you do not suffer, you can be of little use to those who do suffer. The promise is, |If we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him.|
Abraham suffered in that one supreme sacrifice, but his example of faithfulness in the test has enriched millions of souls. Job suffered not only physical agony but the keenest and deepest of spiritual agony, yet that suffering was only an opportunity for God to manifest his mercy and kindness. How much Job learned of God by enduring through these dark days and how much the world has learned! If we should take out of the Bible the record of suffering and its results that are written there, we should take out of it all that is best and noblest and most helpful and encouraging. How much poorer we should he if the sacred record told only of joy and peace and comfort, if it spoke only of victory and achievement, and told us nothing of the hard road that leads up to them! If the Lord chastises us, it is |for our profit|; if God smites, it is only to enrich; so bear with patience, endure as seeing him who is invisible. Be |patient in tribulation,| drink the cup of your Gethsemane, wear your thorny crown without complaint, endure your Calvary; for unto you is given both to suffer and to reign with him.