How to suffer well?! What kind of an idea is that! I shouldn't have to suffer in my marriage. If their not gonna change and I can't be happy then I'm getting out! Ever heard that before? Ever heard someone else give that terrible advice to someone who is unhappy in their marriage? I have. More times than I would like to think about.
I have also heard many sad stories of coworkers or family, very recently, who are in marriages that they want to fight for but their spouse's heart is not in it. Or the spouse has walked away already. What do you do in that situation? How do you fight every natural sinful, selfish inclination to look out for #1? Why should you? I just want to make it clear that at no time am I suggesting that a healthy understanding of suffering makes it a snap to deal with. It is called suffering for a reason. God does, however promise to walk with us through it.
As a we move forward I believe a healthy look at what scripture teaches on enduring suffering will serve the posts to come regarding divorce. There is much unhealthy, non-biblical teaching regarding suffering. As if somehow God has nothing to do with it or that it is outside of His control. Make no mistake. We serve a sovereign God. No suffering happens without His permission and oversight. He is always in control and He always has our best in mind. Much more could be said, but I hope to provide a biblical context for understanding God's purposes and promises regarding suffering. Please stick with me.
What About Abuse?
There is one subject that is a struggle much more than it should ever be in some marriages and that is abuse. Many ministry leaders have made the argument that abuse should be an acceptable consideration. I have had discussions with friends and family on this topic as well. It has gotten considerable thought consideration in my mind and I believe there is an appropriate response that deals with safety and support of the abused spouse without compromising the biblical standards regarding justified divorce. I wanted to include this here because I can see the subject of suffering in relation to divorce bringing the thought of abuse to mind. I will speak to it and I believe it will make sense.
Suffering in relationships comes in many forms and if you are married, you have likely endured it to some extent. I have been there and so has my beautiful wife. We have both experienced moments in our twelve year marriage and the six years of dating prior to marriage, when we were not very happy with each other. If we were going to break up or get divorced for the reasons that people often do these days, it would have already happened. While we are, gratefully, both pigheadedly committed to our marriage vows and deeply don't want to hurt our children, there have been times that it was almost like emotional divorce, even though we would not actually legally divorce. That, my friends, can be just as painful as the real thing. It has just that glimmer of hope that you are still together and it might improve. Gratefully for us it has.
So what now?
The fact is that most marriages have rough spots. Spouses do not typically remain exactly the same forever. They grow in their faith or lack there of. Common interest's sometimes change and become less common between you. Sometimes they experience health issues that affect how they act toward you or others. Depression is a big challenge in this day. Sometimes busy lives, work distractions, and a lack of communication form a gap that creates an undercurrent of bitterness or resentment in one spouse or the other, or both, that is not always apparent until it has become a serious problem. I have already published my post to men regarding their responsibilities in marriage and ways that they can positively effect change. Before I publish my post to women regarding their unbelievably important and invaluable role as wife and helpmate, I want to share with you some ways in which the bible addresses suffering. But not just suffering in marital struggles. We need a working knowledge of what to expect and how to handle all suffering.
How does scripture address suffering?
As I have grown in my knowledge and understanding of scripture I have become keenly aware of the Spirits use of that knowledge to change my heart and hold me accountable. Whether it is caused by persecution from perfect strangers or coworkers, or it is the result of emotional struggles within a family, or it is your own illness or the illness of someone else, suffering is very real. We need to know what the bible says and how it is applicable. Before we get to the less pleasant realities of suffering in this life lets look to the hope that the future holds for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Suffering is not eternal for them that believe.
2 Corinthians 4:7-18 gives us the hope that we need to hang on through any and all trials and tribulations. Verses 7-15 essentially state that no matter what suffering we must endure, whether emotional, physical, psychological, or spiritual, we must continually remember that we are but jars of clay, carrying the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ, and awaiting the eternal resurrection that will be obtained through the consummation of all things at Christ's triumphant return. Verses 16-18 tells us that, "we do not loose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal."
This is great news that must be revisited in order that it may carry us through past, present, and future sufferings. Always keep your eyes on Jesus and run the race with confidence, knowing that victory is certain as long as you persevere to the end in repentance and obedience.(Matthew 24:13, 2 Peter 1:8-10) Now on to the realities that we must face until this eternal glory, free of suffering, comes to pass.
Expect to suffer in this life
Don't get me wrong, you don't have to walk around fearing it. But you should expect it. The triumphalist ideal that God doesn't want you to suffer; and that at the cross Jesus wiped out all suffering related to this short life here on earth that is not directly related to persecution, is inaccurate. The Apostle Paul, as well as many other faithful men of God have suffered persecution, emotional trials and physical ailments, and it was not because they lacked faith or obedient devotion to their Lord and Savior.
As we will see, many a scripture speaks to the character building purposes of the allowance of suffering in this life. Jesus in no way shied away from the idea that we would endure suffering for his names sake. He called us to take up our cross, an instrument of torture, and follow him on a path of self-sacrifice for the glory of the Father. Jesus explained in Matthew 10:34-36 that "a man's enemies will be the members of his own household." In John 16:33 Jesus said, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. Paul spoke extensively about his own suffering, rejoiced in it, and instructed us to do the same. He expected that if he was going to walk in the footsteps of a Suffering Savior, that he could expect to suffer as well(Colossians 1:24, Philippians 3:10). He understood that there was glory to be gained for the Father through our suffering; and revelation to be had, of the Father's goodness and faithfulness through suffering.
Suffering is necessary for our spiritual growth
Romans 5:3-5, "Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us."
James 1:2-4, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish it's work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."
Romans 8:18, "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us."
-God ordains all blessing and suffering(Isaiah 45:7). He has a purpose for it. As explained, it produces perseverance, character and hope. This hope grows, with the character, through the perseverance. This hope is what carries us through the suffering. We are to rejoice. But how, you ask? We must keep an eternal perspective. We must always see every trial as preparation for the glory to come. We must remember that this life is but a vapor(James 4:14).
We expect suffering and know that it is not unique to us.
1 Peter 4:12-13, "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"
-Now I will grant you that, especially if you continue reading through vs. 19, this suffering is more in reference to suffering persecution for Christ's name. However, there are absolutely times when suffering in marriage comes at least in part as persecution from your spouse and maybe other family members for converting to Christianity. It could also come in the face of doing what is right in the eyes of God regarding your marriage even if your believing spouse is not.
1 Corinthians 10:13, "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man."
-We must remember this. Make no mistake, trials and suffering will lead to temptations. Temptations to retaliate or leave when we should stay, for example. They are all common to anyone who is suffering. We must remember that Christ endured suffering, rejection, and temptation. He knows your struggles and He promises to walk with you through them.
God will not remove all suffering in this life, but He will see you through it.Isaiah 43:1-2, "But now, this is what the Lord says. He who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze."
Psalm 34:17-19, "The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all; He protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken."
-Many scholars believe that the last line about the broken bones is a reference to Jesus who had not one bone broken on the cross. The overall picture of these scriptures is that we will suffer. However, we can cry out to God and we can expect that He will be there with us, sustaining us, and restoring us on the other side. Ultimately, He will deliver us from all suffering for eternity through the consummation of all things at Christ's return.
We come to know God better through suffering.
There are other scriptures that speak to this but one of my favorites is from the book of Job. Job is a book entirely devoted to the doctrine of suffering. Many things are discussed through this wonderful book, but what is most precious to me at this point comes from Job 42:5. After a rather intense, mostly one-sided discussion between Job and God in Job Ch.38-41, Job realizes his fault in daring to question the sovereign God of the universe about his own suffering and loss. He is not however, embittered or ill that he did not get all the answers. No, you see, God spends a lengthy period of time speaking of His clear control in creating and setting into motion EVERYTHING that comes to pass from massive storms to massive animals and from the highest heavens to the depths of the sea.
It is not that we do not exert our will and have responsibility for our actions but, that God was there at the beginning, is here observing and interacting with His creation, and will be there at the end; and that He is ALWAYS in control.
What is Job's response in Job 42:5? "My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you." That's beautiful. The revelation that Job gained of the awesome majesty of a Holy God was priceless. As it happens God restored all that Job had lost and then some. That is not promised in this life, but it is in the life to come.
Rejoice in your suffering.
If you read Job 42:1-6 you get a sense of joyful repentance. He is sorrowful in repentance at his pride in questioning God, yet there is a joy to be had in the new revelation he has of God. Did you notice in Romans 5:3-5, James 1:2-4, and 1 Peter 4:12-13 that we are instructed to rejoice, be joyful, or count it all joy that we suffer. Do you find it odd that scripture teaches this? The reason for this is found in the surrounding subtitles of this paragraph. Through suffering we come to know God the Father better, we become more aware of the Holy Spirit's empowering presence, and we become more dependent on Jesus. Rejoice in suffering because through suffering, we are conformed more and more into the image of God that we were originally intended to reflect.
Jesus is there through it all
These are but a few, of a multitude of scriptures that speak to the reality of suffering, the purpose of suffering, and of hope in suffering. I want to give one more reference straight from the mouth of Jesus. Though it is applicable to times of suffering, it is really intended as a call to surrender your life to Him with the promise that He will help you bear the load. It is found in Matthew 11:28. In it Jesus states, "Come unto me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls."
You see, God's purpose in our existence is two fold. To glorify God and enjoy Him forever. When you learn to trust him, then you learn to rest in him, then you can enjoy him. In all of these aspects, He will be glorified through your life. As the Pastor/Author John Piper has coined the phrase, "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.".
Learn to be satisfied in God and all that He is, through the scriptures, and He will be more than enough for you when times are tough and those whom you love most on earth are not satisfying your needs....it may just save your marriage. Consequently, He will be glorified all the more in your life, thus creating an awesome Christian witness...and that we should want, because people will want to know how in the world you can seem so satisfied and joyful in the midst of trial and tribulation. Then you get to explain the joy of knowing Jesus. What an awesome privilege.
I pray this encourages you through the hard times, in marriage, or anything else in life.