I am in pain and this is a painful post to write. Even as I type these words, by body is running mainly on on Tylenol, Mucinex, and Menthol cough drops. My throat feels as if someone took sandpaper to it. My nose is plugged and swollen. My eyes feel pain at the bright light. My ear is inflamed and plugged up. My head is throbbing with agony. But the last few nights were far worse. I remember them with sorrow. A wheezing and coughing wife is laying at my side. Though I try, I am unable to help her. The cough syrup no longer works. My own flesh is quivering with fever. Every joint in my body aches and groans with pain. I am floating in and out of consciousness, but cannot fall asleep because my sinuses are swollen and I’m on the verge of choking.
I have been sick since Christmas, on and off, though the last two days were excruciatingly worse. There is the “take a Tylenol and man up” type of sickness, and then there is horror that I am recuperating from. Two days ago it took me nearly 10 minutes to get out of bed. I was too lethargic and full of pain to move. I had a small package of Nyquil pills by my bedside. I tried to open it but I couldn’t. I tore at the foil, but my shaking hands didn’t have enough strength to open it. It took me a few minutes of anger, agony, and frustrated tears to open that package.
I hate suffering. I loathe pain. I abhor sickness. Suffering is bad. It’s really bad. No sane person would say suffering is good. Except God. But then again, God is not a sane person, He is God, he knows a lot more things than sane people know.
HOW CAN SUFFERING BE GOOD?
Today I read over Romans 8:28, and thought about my suffering for the last few days. How could that be good? It is the opposite of good. In fact it’s so bad, God will make it fully and finally disappear one day. God is making a world without suffering, a world where “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:4). I can’t wait. Deep down there is a great longing for that place with no suffering. That place is good. But today, we have sickness and suffering. How can that be good for us? The short answer is that God allows bad things to happen (temporary suffering, loneliness, and pain) in order to defeat worse things (eternal suffering, loneliness, and pain).
1. We can enjoy good only after feeling the bad
In order to value something, it must be compared to other things. If you were born in a mansion, you hardly value it much. Conversely, if you were raised in a dirty slum, you can truly appreciate a mansion. Health is only appreciated when we get sick, and indeed if no one ever got sick, we would hardly appreciate being healthy. If we were born in Heaven, we would not value it, it would be boring, bland, and regular. But as we are born closer to Hell, we can truly spend eternity appreciating Heaven. If I suffer with the flu today, it radically increase my joy from having no sickness for eternity. The gain for eternity far outweighs the loss today.
2. We are reminded of our inability and brought to humility
Only those who know they are unable to do anything are able to be with Jesus. Those who think they are able to earn God’s grace, are the most unable to do so. In 2 Cor 4:7-12 Paul says we suffer because we are like jars of clay (yes that where the famous Christian band gets its name). That while we have such a great treasure, the good news of Jesus, we are mere clay vessels. In his time, they had valuable cups made from gold and jewels, and cheap cups made from clay. Paul says we are the ones of clay. We may be serving amazing drinks, but we are still simple clay jars. We have weak broken bodies, that shatter, fail, and suffer from the flu. But that is ok, because Gods power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9). It’s good to remember that. It’s good to be humbled by sickness and pain.
3. We are sanctified by our suffering
In the midst of all this pain and suffering, this is the “smart theological but not really helpful” answer that I kept coming back to. Suffering is a process of sanctification, something that makes you a better Christian (Rom 5:3-5). But honestly, I didn’t (and don’t) feel sanctified. If anything the last few days I was even worse than normal. I was trying to pray earlier and I realized I was a bit angry at this raging flu. I felt like God left me and this sanctification thing was not working at all. My heart was full of raw and angry emotions. In retrospect I see that was already a part of my sanctification. My sickness exposed so much sin in my heart, and told me where I need to repent, and what I need to fix. I am sure that I will not be civil and sanctified for a while, but at least I know that I need it and where I need it most. Being broken by the flu really shows you how broken you are everywhere else.