Suffering Worth Enduring
There is no such thing as good suffering, but there is some suffering worth enduring. All suffering is the result of sin.
1. Sin of a cursed world. Because the world is under God's curse we have natural disasters, disease, and death. They are painful experiences that are not anyone's fault.
2. Sin of other people. Sin manifests itself in the actions of others against another person. Anger, hatred, prejudice, envy, immorality, pride, and lust will exhibit itself in all kinds of malicious behavior from yelling to rape, or murder to wars. It is sin done against another and not the fault of the victim.
3. Sin of bad thinking and behavior. Individuals chose courses of action that bring about suffering. They drink excessively and their liver fails. They smoke and get cancer. They steal and end up in jail. They treat others poorly and are lonely. These are actions within our control that bring about suffering.
Suffering is the natural course of living in a sinful world. Suffering can be useful, Paul says, to build character as we learn to trust in God's provision. When we endure suffering for the sake of righteous behavior it is to our credit and exemplifies the behavior of our savior.
Peter said "For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God." 1 Peter 2:19
Paul was suffering for the Ephesians for the sake of the gospel. I think about this as ISIS storms across the Middle East. The natural response is for us to take up arms and fight against their persecution of fellow believers. But is that the proper response? Jesus said love your enemies, do good to those who harm you, and pray for them. But he talked to weak and helpless people. We, the US, have the might and power. Shouldn't we do something about it?
It is easy on this side of the world to take a pacifist position, but there is a deeper issue at play. Our response in the face of suffering for righteousness, for the gospel, isn't about an aversion to war, rather it is an issue of glory. We manifest the mystery of the gospel through its proclamation and the practice of love. When we love our enemies in the face of persecution we trust in, and manifest, the glory of God.
Nations will do nation stuff, which is always for its own interests, Politicians will do their political blustering, Ambassadors will try and mediate, but in the end if God is not glorified through the manifestation of the gospel all that has been done is the rearrangement of the pieces.
We must not lose heart in suffering. God is at work in our lives and in the world. No matter how bleak it seems God is in control. We must wage peace at every turn. We must wade through the propaganda and stand for the righteous and oppressed. We must fight, not with worldly weapons, but the weapons of God. They seem weak and useless against the forces of this dark world, but they are the might of a Glorious God.
"Let not your heart be troubled," Jesus said. "In the world you will have trouble (suffering), but I have overcome the world." He's just saying...
Eph. 3:13, "So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory."