The routine is the same. Every night at 8pm, I kneel by the bed of my 5-year old boy Andrew and kiss him goodnight. And every night for the past 22 months, Andrew has fallen asleep with a belly full of chemo meds and steroids while the battle against leukemia rages inside his little body. You’ve heard it said that suffering produces character but that’s not always true. Suffering combined with right thinking about God will produce the kind of character that discovers joy through pain and hope through despair. Here are the 3 traps I’ve stumbled into and have been tempted by during my most difficult seasons.
The Jaded – Suffering hits us when we least expect it. It’s this sudden shock that sends many people reeling in their preconceived notions about the nature of God. As a result, many Christians simply stop believing that God is present or that He cares. The apparent random nature of the suffering only adds to the believability of this idea. Falling into this trap results in a deadening of one’s prayer life, an emotional withdrawal from other believers, and a complete absence of worship. The jaded person finds secret satisfaction in giving God the cold shoulder.
The Hated – Just recently, I had a conversation with a faithful Christian man who told me that he suspected his child’s illness was God’s retribution for his own past sins. He went on to quote Exodus 20:5 where God “visits the iniquity of the fathers on the children”. This man sees suffering as purely punitive. He accepts the suffering and commits himself to endure just long enough to earn back God’s favor. This “hated” person finds secret satisfaction in suffering because it’s his path to reconciliation with God.
The Courageous – The biggest trap that Christians fall into is the idea that God does not want them to suffer. Many well-meaning Christians seem to believe that all suffering can be traced back to the enemy and therefore God never intended it for them. These Christians find it their duty to join God in the fight against death, disease, divorce, etc. Faith quickly degenerates into an unbiblical form of positive thinking. Since Satan is the owner of their suffering, sincere prayers are targeted at the enemy in hopes of eradicating the source of suffering. This person finds secret satisfaction in their own sense of courage as they join God in facing the enemy head-on.
Each of these traps finds its escape in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God proved his presence by providing his Son, God satisfied his wrath by slaying his Son, and God magnified his love by raising his Son. At the cross, we find the full character of God on display for us to embrace in our darkest seasons of anguish.
To the jaded, you must know that even while you were giving God the cold shoulder, He died for you (Romans 5:8). To the hated, you must know that no amount of personal suffering could ever reconcile you back to God. Only one man was capable of that (Romans 5:18). To the courageous, you must know that only Jesus had the guts to face the enemy head-on so feel free to retire your cape. You’re allowed to be weak because Jesus was strong for you (2 Corinthians 12:9).