I gained a new perspective on suffering today as I studied 1 Peter 4.
"Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed." 1 Peter 4:12-14
That last phrase "so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed" was key for me.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about suffering in relation to my son Marshall, fearing something bad might happen to him. As I read what God's word says about how to endure suffering, I kept seeing references to having an eternal perspective, to set our hopes on Christ and the glories that will be revealed, knowing that the testing of our faith produces perserverance, character, hope, and believing that suffering refines our faith, believing that it IS worth it.
Well, easy to say. Harder to do.
But when I read verse 13 this week, I recognized that maybe I had it reversed. That instead of trying to gear up, with my own strength, that ability to "think eternally" in order to not completely become a basketcase when suffering comes my way...that perhaps God is allowing suffering in my life SO THAT I will gain an eternal perspective.
Let me explain. I know that in the past, when I've gone through difficult times, in the midst of my pain, I am reminded that this world is BROKEN. The people are BROKEN. I am BROKEN. That doesn't mean there aren't still wonderful, beautiful things in this world. Not at all. I see the immense blessings of marriage, family, friends, children, and even God's creation. But, within those, there is still BROKENNESS. Think about it. In marriage, you see the refusal of the wife to submit to her husband's leadership. You see jealousy, selfishness, envy, unforgiveness, bitterness, and anger. The same goes for family relationships and friendships. Even with children, you see that defiant little willful self expressed...sometimes as early as 9 months! In parenting, you see the need to control...sometimes for the child's good, but often times, for the parents' own selfish desires. In nature, you see beautiful mountain ranges, vast oceans and lush rain forests, but you also see catastrophic floods, earthquakes, famine, drought and global warming. While there are wonderful, beautiful things in this world, even within those, there is BROKENNESS.
To experience suffering, then, actually helps remind me of that brokenness. It reminds me that this is not what God intends, that God has a perfect, unbroken world waiting for us, where there is no pain, no tears, no disease, no death. Going through the pain of my suffering helps me remember that this wasn't what I was made for, that I'm not where I truly belong, that I'm not living out my life to the fullest potential...but that someday, I will.
Knowing that there is a place where I truly belong and can truly become all that I am meant to be helps me to LONG for that place. By experiencing pain and loss, I am reminded that one day, I will be in a place where there is no pain and loss.
Even then, it's hard to wrap my little human mind around a place like that. C.S. Lewis paints the picture much better than I can. In his book, "The Great Divorce" he describes a group of people taking a bus trip to heaven, just for the day, just to see what it's like. When they get there, one of the first things they see is the grass. The grass is so brilliant, so emerald green, so piercingly beautiful, that they can't look at it. It is painful to stare at because it is so blindingly brilliant. They even try to walk on it, but because each little shoot is so sharp, so perfect and straight and upright, that it cuts their feet. And that's just the grass. They didn't even get to experience God's presence.
C.S. Lewis is not saying God's presence will be painful. Instead, he's saying that because we are broken, because we live in a broken world, we can't even fathom what beauty and perfection look like. We have no idea what awaits us.
So the next time I experience suffering, I won't try to muscle up the ability to gain an eternal perspective on my own. No, I will accept it from God and allow Him to use it in my life as a reminder of what's to come, a reminder that this place is broken, this place is full of pain and loss and grief and death. This place is not my home. But one day, I will go home...to a place where even the grass is so brilliantly green, I can barely look at it.