A Christian reaction to suffering

We all have to deal with suffering. When you are living in this fallen world, it’s likely that you will face problems, setbacks, disappointments and heartbreak. How you react to suffering is crucial, for your reaction to suffering will determine whether the trial makes you or breaks you. Some of the negative reactions to suffering include anger, bitterness, self-pity, fear, doubt – suffering can wreck your faith in God. Positive reactions to suffering include cultivating patience, endurance and a joyful spirit.

The Israelites were an example of a people who were punished by God for having a negative attitude towards suffering. In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul writes:

“For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food  and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.  Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes.  And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.”

When they faced difficulties, the Israelites started to grumble and rebel against God and were punished by God with death.

An example of a person in the Bible who was blessed because he reacted well to suffering is Joseph. He had to face great suffering, first being sold as a slave by his brothers to the Egyptian Potiphar. Joseph kept his faith in God and maintained a positive attitude and he was blessed by God. In Genesis 39:4, it states that “Joseph found favor in Potiphar’s eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned.” However, Joseph had to face another great trial when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him. Joseph refused to give in to her demands and so Potiphar’s wife accused him of raping her. As a result, he was thrown in jail. Unlike the Israelites in the desert, Joseph did not grumble against God but kept his faith. As a result, Joseph prospered in the prison and the warden put him in charge of the place. In Genesis 39, it says “But while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.”

Joseph’s example shows that if we keep a positive attitude and have faith in God when we are faced with suffering, God can turn the situation to our advantage and turn our trial into a blessing.

In James 1, the Apostle James writes, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

When most people face trials, they react to it with fear, distress, upset or anger. Most people resist trials. James tells us that as Christians, we need to have a radically different reaction to suffering. We are to welcome suffering, even rejoice in the fact that we have suffering in our life. This is because for the Christian, trials are beneficial as it builds up our perseverance and endurance.

How we react to suffering determines our fate. An example would be the effect of the heat of sunlight on materials. When the sun shines on clay, it hardens but when the sun shines on wax, it melts. We should have hearts that melt in God’s love rather than stubborn hearts that harden in the heat.

So examine your reaction to suffering. Is it strengthening your faith that is being tested or is it leading you to question God’s love? Rather than expecting God to take away your suffering, ask yourself if you need to change your reaction to the suffering that is in your life. Are you letting the suffering help you develop patience and perseverance? Is the suffering inspiring you to put more of your faith in God and spurring you to rely on God’s strength, grace and mercy?

If you have the positive reaction to suffering, you’ll be surprised to find that the effects of suffering will be radically different from when you have a negative reaction to suffering. Examine your reactions, make the positive changes to your attitude and let God help you soar like an eagle above the storm!

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