The Blindside of Suffering

April 28, 2017

Color for the Color Blind

People with color blindness perceive the world in muted tones, unable to see the subtle color variations that other people experience. A discovery incorporating new technology has led to the development of glasses that make it possible for those who are color blind to see color vividly.

Video clips of color blind individuals wearing these glasses for the first time have been posted online and have circulated and multiplied in the way that only social media allows. Invariably, seeing color for the first time while wearing these glasses overwhelms the recipient. Suddenly everything in this person’s world is simultaneously the same as before, yet entirely new. Objects were always real, but suddenly they become alive with a spectrum of color variations never before perceived.

It’s not so different in the spiritual realm. Before Christ, we are spiritually blind. We perceive life to a certain degree, but spiritual subtleties look murky and so our spiritual life lacks clarity and purpose.

But then – boom – we first believe, and Christ enables us to see life in a new way. We see with new eyes and a new understanding which redefines everything we have ever known in this world. This explains, at least in part, the excitement new believers have about their newfound faith – excitement from finally comprehending something previously veiled. But accurately using our spiritual lenses is a lifelong lesson, and the pain and difficulties we face in life are part of the education.

Suffering Has Purpose

In the Christian life, suffering has a purpose for our good and God’s glory (Romans 8:28). The minister of God’s Word must especially embrace this truth as it will be the fuel of their ministry. Paul found this to be the case for his own ministry. The book of 2 Corinthians is a letter about Paul’s ministry in light of the spiritual mugging of the Corinthian church by false teachers. Prior to this letter, Paul had been discredited by false teachers who implied that God’s true servants would not suffer as Paul did. In response, Paul appeals to the Corinthians throughout the letter to understand the spiritual purpose for a believer’s suffering so that they accept Paul’s position as an apostle and ultimately believe in Christ’s gospel message as the suffering servant who died on the cross for the sins of the world. Paul, in fact, cites his own sufferings as the credentials which enabled him to minister and give comfort to them and, in time, to us too.

Consider what Paul went through: “With far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).

All of this would be nothing more than a spectacular list of miseries, enough to make anyone question Paul’s sanity in remaining in ministry, were it not for Paul’s application of spiritual glasses, which offer sense and purpose to his suffering.

Looking through spiritual lenses, Paul first understood that his suffering was designed to teach him to “rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9). We need to grow in leaning on God. By default, we presume that our successes are a direct result of our efforts. Suffering forces us to question the degree to which we are truly in control and encourages us to draw closer to the God of comfort for understanding.

Indeed, the same power that caused Christ to rise from the dead is at work, not only to provide a future eternal resurrection for each believer, but to work right now in each believer’s life to make us more like Christ. This is critical when it comes to understanding suffering because as James writes, the trials we endure give the opportunity for our faith to manifest (James 1:2-4).

Our comfort, therefore, comes in part from learning that there will be a purpose in the trial, even if we cannot see it immediately. We may never be privy to the specific circumstances that led God to sovereignly ordain a particular trial. For example, there is no indication that Job was ever told why calamity struck him. Yet we can know that God is purposing each trial to grow us in Christ-likeness. God-sanctioned suffering doesn’t come from the hand of a cosmic bully; rather, God’s love for His children fuels His desire for us to give Him greater glory through greater dependence on Him.

Suffering Makes You a Better Counselor

Helping people who are suffering is one of the greatest privileges and challenges of counseling. We mourn with those who mourn, leading them to the God of comfort and to see their suffering through lenses they perhaps didn’t even realize they owned.

Suffering is difficult to understand and is viewed differently by those who trust in Christ, and the counselor must give great care to instill hope in times of trouble. We lead others to the God of comfort and help them to see their suffering in a way that was not clear to them before. We have the privilege of counseling others in their distress and are in fact leading them to “the God of ALL comfort, who comforts us in ALL our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in ANY affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:3-4, emphasis mine). To comfort is to encourage, exhort, and come alongside another, allowing the Lord to use the comfort you have received from Him to comfort those in need. As Paul wrote, it was his own suffering that led him to know God’s comfort so that he could give that comfort to those in need.

Paul’s past and present sufferings not only served to draw him closer to God but gave him the hope and wisdom he needed and was able to give to others. We can extend the wisdom gained through our suffering to others. This happens when we empathize with others in their trials and encourage them through what we have learned and how we have grown in our relationship with Christ as a result of the trials God places in our lives.

Put on Spiritual Lenses

The reality is that we live in a broken and sinful world and we are all at varying levels of distress. We live in and between trials that prod and awaken us to our need of God’s comfort. He offers that comfort freely and abundantly. Yet it is specifically in the context of suffering that Paul recognized his greatest ability to serve others in Christ. God purposes trials in our lives to demonstrate how much we need Him and to cultivate a godly dependence on Him. In leaning on Him, He blesses us richly with His comfort; in effect, blessing us for recognizing our own inability to address our own problems.

So ensure those spiritual glasses are put to use. Be sure to view your own suffering and that of others through spiritual lenses that recognize your need for a sovereign, wise, and loving God. Don’t keep looking at your situation in the muted shades of spiritual immaturity, but strive for the perspective that allows you to see your need for God in full spectrum.

Questions for Reflection

Are you viewing your current trials and/or suffering through spiritual lenses? What are some ways you can help your counselees to more faithfully interpret their suffering?