The Purpose of Suffering

March 14, 2017, by Todd Neva

The following is a transcript from the last of three Good News You Can Use radio spots, which aired January 16-18, 2017, on WMPL 920 AM.  I spoke on the topic The God of Suffering.

Mitch:

Todd Neva is a lay preacher at Evangel Baptist Church. Nearly 7 years ago, he was diagnosed with ALS, a terminal disease that causes total paralysis. He lives in the Hancock area with his wife and two children. He and his wife Kristin authored the book Heavy, A Young Family’s First Year with ALS, and they blog at Nevastory.com. Their speaking and blogging ministry focuses on the topics of grief, suffering, and finding meaning after a terminal diagnosis. As a complete quadriplegic, he is uniquely qualified to discuss the topic for today: God of Suffering.

Todd:

Good morning, Mitch. Today I’m going to wrap up this topic of the God of Suffering with the discussion on the Purpose of Suffering.

In the seven years I’ve had ALS, I noticed something interesting— many of the people who’ve come alongside me have their own personal stories of suffering. I got in the habit of asking people what tragedy has struck their lives. They survived cancer. A sibling died. A mother is disabled. A brother is intellectually impaired.

After having my first symptoms of a weak arm, I began seeing a chiropractor. He was kind enough to see me at the end of the day so I wouldn’t have to take too much time off work, and one evening as I left the building, I saw him load a man into the front seat of his car and then strap his wheelchair onto a carrier on the trunk.

The next time I saw the doctor, I asked him about the man — I thought it might be his brother, since they looked alike. “He’s my childhood friend,” Doc said, pointing to a framed photograph on his desk of two boys in Little League outfits. Not long after that picture was taken, his friend started having strange symptoms. His muscles would seize up. It took many years to get a diagnosis, but they finally figured out he has dystonia. Dystonia is almost the exact opposite of ALS — rather than the muscles losing strength, they all seize up involuntarily. He became totally paralyzed, but with severe pain and muscle cramping.

“Is that why you got into chiropractic care?” I asked.

“Yes, the medical doctors could help him, and I thought maybe I could at least give him some relief.”

Recently, after the tragic boating accident on Lake Superior, a recovery team came to look for the two men and the boy. The founder of the nonprofit organization had the best equipment money could buy, and he found the three, giving at least some sense of closure to the families. He had said he lost his brother, a firefighter who got swept away in the river as he was attempting to rescue someone.

When a loved one suffers, we suffer with them. There’s a word for that — compassion. It’s from the Latin words with and suffering. If you prefer Greek-based words, use empathy.

Yesterday, I talked about some things Christians say to try to comfort people in suffering. One that I left out is, everything happens for a reason. People like to point to Joseph, the son of Israel, being sold into slavery by his brothers. He ended up working for the Egyptian Pharaoh, in charge of storing food prior to a major drought. One day, his brothers show up begging for food. He was able to save his family. What man had intended for evil, God worked for good.

That’s a great story, but it’s a historic account of one situation. It’s not a promise that every bad situation is going to somehow turn into something good. There are many bad situations that are just awful, and nothing good will come of it except the change in our hearts if we allow God to work in us.

In Romans 8:28, the Apostle Paul writes, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Pastor Paul is saying that even in a bad situation, if we love God and seek him, he can use that situation to build us up. The situation itself may be horrible, but he is able to redeem all situations. Sometimes, the best thing that might come of it is that we’ll have compassion for other people who are suffering.

Compassion makes us more Christ-like.

Jesus Christ, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to cling to. He became human, and he suffered with his.

And he suffered for us. A few years back, a major motion picture came out called the Passion of the Christ, and every Easter kids around the world perform Passion Plays.

Words change over time, and passion has come to mean something like love and devotion, such as he has a passion for his work, or the couple was passionately in love.

The word passion originally meant to suffer. The movie was about the Suffering of the Christ, and the kids perform plays about the Suffering of Christ. His suffering was the ultimate act of love, so it’s not too far off base that we now use the word passion to mean a type of love.

I’ve suffered over the last few years with ALS. I’m a total quadriplegic. I have some pain, lots of discomfort, restless nights, itches I can’t scratch, and continual progression that will eventually lead to respiratory failure. I’m suffering, but the cool thing is that my heart has been open to the suffering of this world.

I feel more deeply for others, and I hope to play a small part in pointing people to the God of mercies and all comfort.