We only need to read the headlines in the morning paper or turn on the evening news to have confirmed what we already know to be true, suffering is an ever-present companion in this world. As a result of the Fall, every individual throughout the history of humanity has known suffering and Christians are not exempt from this experience. Rather, in many ways the suffering Christians are called to endure can even be greater (John 15:20) than that which the unbeliever endures in this world.
As we face this truth, I have found that nothing is as realistic about suffering as the Bible. The Scriptures do not follow the path of eastern mysticism and deny the reality of suffering. Rather, they treat it as very real. Neither do they make the error of accepting suffering as something that is real, but dismiss it as insignificant. No, much of the suffering in this world is far from trivial. The Scriptures are honest about the trials of the saints of God and about the severity of those same trials. From Abraham to Job to David to Paul, they all suffered and suffered greatly. We could even say that many of them endured some of the worst afflictions that this life has to offer. The life of Job is a monumental testimony to this fact.
However, the Scriptures do no leave us there. Even as there is nothing as honest about suffering in this life as the Scriptures, so there is nothing as comforting in the midst of these trials. The Bible attends to the soul like a physician’s balm. There is healing in its pages, comfort in its words, and hope in its exhortations. Maybe the most surprising, yet comforting, aspect of the Scriptures in the midst of our trials is what they expect from the Christian as we experience these “dark nights of the soul.”
It is not what many Christians will advise and counsel one another, let alone believe themselves, that suffering must merely be endured. Make no mistake, the Bible teaches the need for endurance in the midst of trial (Romans 5:3), but it does not let us stop there. The Lord calls us to approach suffering in a unique and wholly uncommon way. As Christians, we are exhorted to rejoice in the midst of our suffering! Paul says in Romans 5:3, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings…” He says in Colossians 1:24, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake…”
We may be tempted to think that Paul was a little confused on this point. Maybe the suffering he experienced was superficial and therefore it was easy for him to pen such lofty words. If only he was accustomed to what we have been forced to endure, he may have sung a different tune. But then we read of the miseries the Apostle Paul experienced (2 Corinthians 11:23-28). He was imprisoned, beaten, lashed, shipwrecked, stoned, and in constant danger. He was subjected to hunger, thirst, extreme temperatures, and the mental anguish of worrying about the churches under his care. He was no stranger to suffering and his afflictions were anything but minor. The Apostle Peter, who also knew suffering by experience, exhorts the distressed churches in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings…” (1 Peter 4:13).