Called Through Suffering

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
    by night, but I find no rest.

Psalm 22:1-2

Disclaimer: I have been attending my mother’s Sunday school class for the past few weeks discussing Jesus’ “I Am” statements in the book of John and I have so appreciated her teachings that I am going to steal one of her most memorable points and paraphrase it here (sorry mom; they do say that mimicking is the highest form of praise, don’t they?).

During her teachings, my mother made a comment that has been echoing in my head for weeks: she said that God is not primarily concerned with our comfort, or our prosperity, or our ease, or our success. He is chiefly concerned that we see and know him. All of our needs and wants and desperate prayers are valuable to and heard by God, but they are secondary to God’s desire for us to see and know that He alone is God.

She was speaking particularly about the passage of scripture in John 9 where Jesus heals the man who was born blind. The disciples ask him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). Their question reveals their framework for understanding suffering: they perceived affliction as being punishment, the righteous consequence for a previous sin, either individually or generationally. Jesus completely turns this notion upside down with a simple sentence: “‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God may be displayed in him'” (John 9:3). What a radically different perspective! The blind man’s suffering was not an act of an angry God disciplining and rebuking, but the act of a merciful and gracious God who desired this man come to see and believe in Jesus and therefore allowed him to suffer. God was not ignorant of the man’s blindness nor was he maliciously inflicting the man’s blindness to right past wrongs. God’s desire was to call this man to Himself. Without his blindness, he would not have come to seek healing from Jesus. Without his suffering, he would not have come to belief. If he had been perfectly healthy, Jesus would have no reason to interact with him and their paths might never have crossed. Without the season of being blind, he would never seen the true light.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). We go through seasons of darkness that we may recognize the light when it is revealed to us. God does not allow us to suffer out of punishment or malice, but out of the depth of compassion, a compassion that wants so much more than comfort, or ease, or success, or fame, or prosperity for us. God’s primary desire is to draw us to himself through his son, Jesus Christ, even if that involves seasons of distance from God, like the Psalmist, or periods of blindness, like the believer in the Book of John. May we take comfort during suffering in the knowledge that God is pursuing our greatest good and drawing us to himself.
~Hilary Mulhern

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