“How do you prepare for suffering?”
When I was first asked that question years ago, I was startled. I had no idea how to answer. How does anyone prepare for the unthinkable?
Personally, I have felt unprepared every time suffering has shown up on my doorstep. Even when I think it’s coming. Even when I know what to expect. Even when I’m sure it’s inevitable. Somehow it feels theoretical until it actually arrives. Or maybe I just keep hoping it will not be delivered. But when it’s finally here, it can take my breath away with its intensity.
Even as I write, I’m dealing with escalating struggles with post polio syndrome, struggles I was warned about over a decade ago. And yet I’m still surprised at how hard it is to deal with the losses.
As I struggle, I stay in the Word daily. I declare that God is trustworthy. I remember that He is in control. I remind myself of truths that sustain me every day. Truths that come straight from the Bible. Like those I have learned from Job, who has been my faithful mentor in suffering.
In one fateful day, Job lost everything. His children, his servants, his home and his livestock. And then he was afflicted with sores all over his body. No one could never have foreseen that type of loss. There was no way to prepare. Yet before disaster came near his tent, Job did things that helped him withstand his trials. And I have found those same things have helped me face my own suffering.
Most importantly, Job knew God. Before calamity came, Job feared God and talked to Him. Continually. He prayed constantly for his children. He lived his life looking to God in all circumstances.
Like Job, my relationship with God was forged years before my heartbreaking losses. I grew to know God deeply through reading the Bible and praying. Even when the Bible felt dry and boring. Even when God felt distant. And even when devotions felt like pure duty.
Over time, simply reading the Bible and asking God for wisdom taught me to hear His voice, understand His heart and know His ways. And bringing my requests to Him, telling Him my fears, and listening for His still small voice brought genuine depth to my relationship.
And when I came to the dark valleys, Job showed me what trusting in God looked like. Job trusted God enough to lament to Him. Job declared (10:1), "I will give free utterance to my complaint; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul." Yet, in the midst of his suffering and sorrow, Job continued to bless God’s name. Job could say (13:15), "Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face.” Job could put his complete hope in God yet argue his case at the same time. Nothing would convince Job that God was not trustworthy.
To trust God, I have to believe that He loves me. That He has my best in mind. That He is for me. It’s easier to believe those truths when life is going well.
In the fiery furnace, God’s love seems like an abstract concept. In the furnace, I often doubt His care. My faith wavers. But then I must go back to what I know to be true from Scripture. That He lavishes His grace on me. That nothing can separate me from God’s love. That God will supply all my needs.
I know that God can fulfill all those promises because He is in complete control. Job knew that as well. From the beginning of his suffering until the end, Job never doubted the sovereignty of God. When everything was first taken away from him, Job fell to the ground and said (1:21), “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job clearly saw that everything that happened to him came from God’s hand.
At first I resisted this theology. If God was loving, He wouldn’t make me suffer. Love was defined from my perspective, not God’s. Love was about my comfort, not my character. My happiness, not my holiness.
But as I searched the Scriptures, I found an entirely different God than the one I had fashioned. I found that this God used all things to work together for good for those who loved Him. Nothing was random or haphazard or outside of His control. Even the hard things that made no sense to me had purpose. As Job says (42:2), “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”
God’s purposes cannot be thwarted. Everything He has planned for me will come to pass. He will use every difficult situation for my good and His glory.
This understanding of God applies not only to major struggles but also to daily problems. It applies to broken dishwashers as well as broken relationships. To common colds and to cancer. To unexpected bills and to bankruptcy. God is using all of these things in ways that one day we will thank him for. As Joni Eareckson Tada says, “We’ll thank God endlessly in heaven for the trials He sent us here.”
It is in turning to God in our everyday struggles that we learn to trust Him. He loves us fiercely, He knows what’s best for us, and He is sovereign over our lives. He will make sure that we lack for nothing.
John Newton says, “Everything is needful that he sends. Nothing can be needful that he withholds.” This applies to ALL of life. The everyday disappointments and the life-altering losses. They are all under His control and He uses them all for our good and His glory.
So how do we prepare for suffering?
We get to know God through Scripture and through prayer. We trust Him, confident that He is sovereign over our lives. And we apply what we’ve learned. Every day. In all circumstances. In intermittent drizzle and in pouring rain. He is always with us. And He is always good.