In my previous blog, I discussed the kayaking analogy of faith. If you haven’t read the analogy, click here. I talked about four different kinds of people in this analogy: the comfortable ones resting on the beach, the ones who attempted to go after their God-given promise only to give up after it got too hard, the ones who went for it no matter how hard it got, and the ones who didn’t realize the responsibility of stewarding the promise once they got there.
I want to discuss another type of person associated with this kayaking analogy. This person usually has a narrow vision and a lack of understanding of the goodness of God. They typically are very motivated people and eager to serve and obey God. This eagerness causes them to dive headfirst into the “breakers”–kayak or no kayak. And, in their white-knuckled obedience and lack of vision, they get tossed and flipped around in the “breakers”. They go no further than this.
The issue with this type of person is that they don’t see beyond the “breakers”. They have no vision of what’s waiting for them on the other side. There is no sense of fulfillment or reward for their faith and obedience. Perhaps they have never even heard God speak clearly enough to have a sense of what their purpose is.
Their lack of vision for the “depths” has caused their sight to be set on merely the “breakers”. They can’t see beyond them and, in fact, believe the “breakers” to be their end-all purpose in life. What this does to a person is twist their idea of God into believing all He wants for them is suffering. As one popular preacher puts it, “God is most glorified in our suffering.”
The doctrine of suffering states that suffering is a part of life. Suffering is anything that causes pain or discomfort. With the right attitude and our hearts inclined to Jesus, we can endure suffering and come out the other end with more strength and wisdom, as well as more trust in God.
The causes of our suffering can include: Our own sins and mistakes, the sins and mistakes of others, spiritual attacks, and life circumstances due to living in a fallen world. Although, we also endure suffering as we walk out our faith and move towards God’s promises for our lives. This does not mean suffering is God’s purpose for us; it merely means it’s necessary as we walk towards the actual goal.
Take, for example, the death of Jesus on the cross. Luke 22:39-44 describes the agony that Jesus faced as the time drew near to die. He asked that God would take this cup from Him (vs. 42, the term “cup” referring to the suffering He would endure) and actually sweated drops of blood (vs. 44). He knew what lay before Him, yet He had vision of the reward. Jesus’s death on the cross reconciled us to the Father. His death redeemed us from the bondage of sin and death.
Hebrews 12:2 states that Jesus endured the cross “for the joy set before Him”. The cross was not the joy set before Him; we were! He was motivated by love!
Another issue I see in a theology that emphasizes suffering is that it’s a rather sneaky way of getting our eyes off Jesus. Matthew 14:22-33 is the story of Jesus walking on water. When the disciples realize it’s Jesus who is on the water, Peter calls out to Him, “Tell me to come to you on the water.” Peter climbs out of the boat and begins to walk on the water towards Jesus. “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately, Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’” (vs. 30-31).
What’s going on in this story? While Peter keeps his focus on Jesus, he is miraculously walking on water. Then as Peter turns his gaze towards the wind and waves, he begins to sink and Jesus calls him “you of little faith”. If we, too, begin to focus more on our circumstances and our suffering rather than Jesus, we will begin to sink. Fear and hopelessness will overtake us, which impacts our level of faith. We have no need to fear our circumstances when we are with Jesus.
The difference between focusing on our suffering and focusing on Jesus while being aware of our suffering is vast. Recently, I had the honor of hearing Abi Stumvoll speak at my church. You would never guess by watching her that she has been suffering from a very painful illness for the past twenty years. She talks about the times where she needs to cry out to God when the pain gets unbearable or when she falls into hopelessness, but then she realigns herself with God’s truths and promises over her life.
Abi’s focus is on Jesus and His promises for her. She’s not in denial of her condition; she just chooses not to dwell on her circumstances. It’s evident in how passionate and hopeful she is. Abi speaks again and again on the goodness of God. Despite life’s circumstances, He is good.
Contrast that with preachers who emphasize suffering.* They don’t merely acknowledge suffering; they embrace it and esteem it as a badge of honor. These preachers basically tell you to expect suffering and be joyful about it (instead of joyful in it). I recently heard one of these preachers go into horrific detail of the suffering the first century apostles went through. And then he claimed that they were practically bragging about the torture that was inflicted on them—their bones sticking out, their mangled body parts, etc. I’m sorry. Where is the hope in that?
Yes, suffering is a part of life. To ignore this truth is to set yourself up for discouragement when hard times come. But don’t allow the fear of this extreme to drive you to the other extreme of focusing too much on suffering and the difficult circumstances of life. As Hebrews 12:2 tells us, let’s fix our eyes on Jesus. Let’s focus on the love, goodness, and unchanging nature of God. Then, when we face the breakers of life, they won’t knock us down.
I appreciate your feedback! What are your thoughts on suffering? Is it helpful or hurtful to dwell on and emphasize suffering? What do you believe is a healthy perspective on suffering? Comment below!
*I don’t want to reference these preachers. If you’ve heard them, you know what I’m talking about. If you’ve never heard someone preach this way, consider yourself fortunate.
For more on God’s goodness, read “God is Good” by Bill Johnson.