The Christian’s Season of Suffering

The Christian’s Season of Suffering February 27, 2018

Cabin fever has been a legit struggle for me lately. We haven’t had a particularly hard winter, but of course it’s at least been cold enough to warrant staying in and doing mostly sedentary activities unless kitchen duty has called. A gentleman at church last Sunday was talking to me about the Seasons, and I noted how Spring was teasing us as of late. The days warm up briefly. Then they get windy and a snow storm blows in, gathering up my hope for Spring and carrying it off to wherever wind goes once it’s through torturing those with a fine appreciation of superb 80’s hair.

Seasons, at least where I live, are a normal part of life. Fall and Spring are my favorites because they are void of extremes. The temps are generally mild with a few storms here and there, but all in all, nature tends to be kind. Winter and Summer, though, are extreme opposites that my chronically ill body cannot thrive well in. You might even say they’re cruel, either leaving me starved for sunshine and vitamin D, which my neurological issues so desperately need, or suffocating me with high temperatures – the last thing my neurological issues need.

But. However miserable it gets, I always know it’s temporary.

Spring always comes.

Fall always comes.

Never in my entire 45 – almost 46 – years have the Seasons failed to change.

I can also say things are temporary when it comes to spiritual Seasons, which might include grief, unbelief, sin I can’t seem to kill, depression, and many others. I’ve experienced all of these, accompanied by thoughts such as:

God, where are you?

Why did you take my loved one so soon?

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

Lord, I can’t give up my sin. In fact, I don’t even have a desire to give it up. I like it. And I guess that means I won’t give up my sin. Your Word says there’s pleasure in sin for a season, and it seems to me that pleasurable season can be quite lengthy. But I know it’s wrong, and that the pleasurable season will end, and what will follow will be painful consequences, even if it seems I’m getting away with wrongdoing. So will you help me start battling again? And again and again? However long it takes …. ?

Some questions of the heart are answerable within the pages of Scripture. But admittedly, others go unanswered for a lifetime. Job, who had everything and everyone taken from him in a short time had deep, anger-filled questions for God. And note he never hesitated to ask them out loud. But ultimately, he came to the conclusion, with God’s help, that some things aren’t revealed because we are the creations. God is the Creator. Whether God’s refusal to reveal His reasons for everything perturbs or satisfies us is our decision. It takes faith to trust Him in the barren Seasons when we aren’t privy to all the answers or are of the opinion that God should be sovereign in the same way we would be sovereign.

Seasons come and Seasons go, both earthly and spiritual. But I would dare say that some Seasons are lifelong, spiritual speaking. Some folks struggle with depression their entire lives, for instance. But in those instances, one must understand that life is a Season. That the suffering that goes on in a temporal life is just that: temporal; or at least it has the potential to be.

Heaven awaits all those who believe in Christ for salvation and remission of sins. For those who reject God and engage in a life-long fist shaking toward Him, well, they will also live eternally, but in a state of torment, separated from God. Fist-shakers may be reading and thinking Good! I wish to shake my fist at God for all eternity! But alas, those who think that way do not have any inkling of what it’s like to live without the presence and grace of God. Though they be unsaved, unregenerate, enemies of God, His common grace still pours out to them on a daily basis.

There’s grace in the sunshine. Grace in the rain. Grace in gravity. Grace in the kindness of others. Grace in the newborn baby’s cry. Grace in the trees, flowers, plants, mountains, and all nature. Grace in the faithful honey bee. Grace in everyday provision of needs. Not wants, but needs. Grace in the revelation of truth. Common grace will be gone in Hell. And though one might think of one’s self as being willing to go there today, once there, one might not feel so confident.

Our position before God is a weighty thing to consider. Whether we accept or reject Him is the most important decision we will ever make. Our miserable, suffering Seasons are often what make us wonder about spiritual issues, and this is at least partially why God allows them. Suffering, though terrible, causes people to ask. To inquire of God whether He is there, if He is who He says He is, and whether we can trust Him with our souls and life here on earth.

I am often asked about my chronic illness, which has included everything from migraines, open heart surgery, other heart problems that don’t require surgery but take a toll everyday, neurological problems, thyroid problems, and digestive problems to the extent of having to be partially fed through tubes, as I can only eat four foods by mouth (for well over 12 years now).

I used to watch the commercials when I was young that showed starving Ethiopian children. Little tykes with tummies the size of basketballs and legs and arms the size of a willow stick would pop up on the screen. Flies littered their faces, while they ate what looked like rice out of a wooden bowl with their hands. In all my seven years of wisdom, I thought their tummies must be growling and they must be awfully tired. But now, in my 45 years of wisdom, I know that malnourishment is so much more than tummy gurgles and a need for sleep. In fact, once you get to a certain point, you’re not even hungry anymore. Yes, you’re tired, but not in the way it feels after a hard day’s work. You’re tired like you’ve run marathons through water for weeks on end without food. And you hurt. Everywhere. You can’t think. You are overly emotional, or you have no emotions at all. You’re numb. In our “exercise makes everything better” world, you force yourself to get out and walk. But exercise makes everything worse for three days.

I could go on, but you get the point. It’s difficult. And it will likely last until I die, to one degree or another. So when people ask me how I get through ongoing suffering, I tell them I persevere because I know pain is temporal.

It’s a Season, that’s all. An important Season, since God is using it to shape me and others around me into His image. But a Season, nonetheless. If I had any doubts about that, I’d certainly be tempted to end life. In fact, I’ve heard of several cases where people who suffered with the same digestive illnesses as mine commited suicide. They didn’t  know or didn’t believe that suffering is not forever, or maybe they simply didn’t want to wait it out. So they did what was necessary to end their Season of suffering. 

Death’s timing shouldn’t be decided by any human being. That’s God’s business. So I guess you could say it’s my Christian worldview that keeps me going – a worldview says God is God and I am not. That Seasons of suffering come into this world because man fell, and yet, God is gracious anyway. He doesn’t withhold the consequences of that Fall. But He does give Himself in whatever suffering we endure. And if one wishes, He gives Himself for all eternity.

I’m anxious for Spring. But I’m even more anxious for the promised pain free, doubt free, anger free, discontentment free, sickness free, sin free Season of eternity in Heaven. I can sit here and talk about how unfair life is, which I honestly feel at times. But the real unfairness was committed at Calvary, against Jesus. He, the perfect, sinless Son of God, came to earth for an approximate thirty-three year Season, which ended with Him dying a horrifying, torturous death because of my sins. So that I might live.

From His point of view, what is so fair about that?

Nothing. It was amazing, utter self-sacrifice on His part. The only part I played in the entire scene was to be one of the sinners who nailed Him to the cross. And it seems the least I could do is thank Him for His sacrifice, and in return, trust Him with my life here on earth, whether it’s the life I desire or not.

I gratefully accept my forthcoming eternal Season of life and joy, even if it means an earthly Season of suffering first. Because earthly suffering is but a “light, momentary affliction that is preparing me for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” (2 Cor. 4:17)

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