Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
- Romans 5:3-8
The Lord had seen how bitterly everyone in Israel, whether slave or free, was suffering; there was no one to help them.
- 2 Kings 14:26
“And now my life ebbs away;
days of suffering grip me.
Night pierces my bones;
my gnawing pains never rest.
In his great power God becomes like clothing to me;
he binds me like the neck of my garment.
- Job 30:16-18
The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah..”
- Acts 5:41-42
“A change has come indeed. Your hands, so strong and active,
are bound in helplessness now you see your action
ended; you sigh in relief, your cause committing
to stronger hands; so you now may rest contented.
Only for one blissful moment could you draw near to touch freedom;
then, that it might be perfected in glory, you gave it to God.”
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison
The third in Bonhoeffer’s “Stations on the Road to Freedom” is Suffering. We started three week’s ago with Discipline, then last week’s Action. He wrote all four in about two hours, sometime near the end of July 1944, after about fifteen months in prison.
We should be disciplined. We should take action for God’s glory. And the result of that action can take us in a direction that we may not wish to go. For Bonhoeffer, he went to prison as a political prisoner, plotting things against the best interests of the German Nazi government. Some people are persecuted for Christ’s sake. And if you dodge all those adverse responses to your actions, we will all suffer from illness.
I have written several times about how my wife had bleeding ulcers and her first ever flair up of diverticulitis. Her blood count (hemoglobin) had gotten dangerously low. In the ER, we were joking with the nurses and making their difficult task a bit easier. At least the phlebotomist thought we were joking until he spent over thirty minutes getting the first IV started, and another thirty minutes getting the second. There was a need for two IV lines: medicine and blood transfusions.
But when they finally announced that she would be staying, once they found a room, a doctor came in to get consent for treatment and other such things. Most of the questions were the standard questions. Then the doctor asked me, “If she shows no sign of life, do we have your permission to use whatever means that are reasonable to resuscitate her?”
The room got very quiet for a moment. Then I said, “Yes, anything reasonable.” To my surprise, my wife said, “We should talk about that first.” I replied with, “She irritates me to no end, but if she were gone, I would have no one to irritate me.” Our nurse said, “So eloquently spoken!”
But that question and the fact that my wife was feeling at such a low ebb that she was considering that this just might be the time… That haunted me for the next couple of days. With her still in the hospital and starting to feel better, my wife’s conversation began to shift to “When can I get out of here?!?!”
But for a moment, she wanted to discuss a no resuscitation order.
I guess when you know where you are going and you think that your suffering has reached a zenith, you might consider taking that option. Besides, we thought that her total exhaustion was based on the kidney dialysis simply robbing her of her strength. If that was it, why prolong the agony? Once we knew that the issue was something treatable and that she might some day feel better, then our entire thought process changed.
And she is a lot better, and the hemoglobin is slowly increasing. Her hemoglobin may never get up to low normal, but she feels better – until she tries to do something and then she must rest.
That is where those stronger hands come from in Bonhoeffer’s poem. Once she is safely back in bed, she and those stronger hands can both rest.
Embrace the suffering. Count it all Joy in trials. God is testing us. And when we choose Him over anything in this world, we have passed the test.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.