Making Sense of Suffering
In an instant, the life of a young girl changed forever. It was 1967. The water was too shallow. She was just 17. Joni became a household name not because she suffered a tragic diving accident that left her a quadriplegic; she became a household name because of how she learned to deal with her suffering. “Stuck in a wheelchair I wondered, ‘Lord, I will never walk again. I will never use my hands. My back aches. I’m trapped. Maybe you see all of this achieving an eternal glory, but all I see is one awful day after the next in this stinking wheelchair.’”
Life should be easier, right? When we give our hearts and lives to Christ, He takes over and things become less complicated. This is clearly not the experience of the apostles or of Christ Himself. We live in a broken, fallen, and evil world. Our faith sustains us but it doesn’t promise to protect us. We face disease, violence, selfishness, the unexpected and the uninvited. Life, for all our attempts to control it, often wrests control and plunges us into places we’d rather not go.
There are no easy answers for those who suffer. It may be the loss of a job or marriage, the death of a child, a rape, or disease. We wonder, “God, where are you when I need you most?” In the new Rose publishing series of pamphlets by Joni Eareckson Tada, she helps us understand God’s eternal perspective about life’s vicissitudes, the unforeseen, and of aches for which there is no salve. Making Sense of Suffering offers no simple answers. What it does offer are time-tested truths about the role of suffering in our lives and how to respond in ways that build us into men and women of greater faith.
“Suffering teaches me that the greatest good of the Christian life is not the absence of pain, but the growth of Christlikeness,” says Joni. “Suffering involves having what you do not want, and wanting what you do not have.” And isn’t this what Christ tries to accomplish in our lives; character forged in the furnace of affliction? How else can we reach a world where suffering and pain abounds if not through our own experience? “When we suffer and handle it with grace,” says Joni, “we’re like walking billboards advertising the positive way God works in the life of someone who suffers.”
Does God deliberately place stumbling blocks in front of us so we will trip, and grow, and hopefully learn? This is clearly not part of His divine agenda. What He does do, however, is to use it to help others. “Suffering allows me to comfort and strengthen others who are facing trials,” explains Joni. How else can we impact a hurting world if their pain is not our pain; if our stumbling does not lead to empathy, hope, or healing?
In the Rose series of pamphlets Joni takes aim at the tough topics we hope we won’t face but know we can’t escape. These include God’s Hand in Our Hardship, Anger: Aim It in the Right Direction, Speaking God’s Language (the power and purpose of prayer), and Making Sense of Suffering. From a battle-tested warrior, Joni gives us perspective that comes only from one who has faced her own dark nights of the soul. “Suffering was forcing me to make decisions about following God . . . cleanup my character . . . make me more sensitive to others . . . making heaven come alive.”
Consumed by the pressing matters of life, schedules that seem to run us, and urgent agendas; what matters most is gaining an eternal perspective of our lives and hardships. “Now, many years later,” says Joni, “I am more sure than ever that when it comes to our afflictions, God’s got His reasons. Good ones.”