Some Christians suffer more than others. God, in his mysterious sovereignty, has given some of his children a more difficult lot and heavier load than others. Depression, chronic illness, handicaps, intense family conflict, mental illness, and other trials are the hard lot of some Christians.
Abraham Kuyper reminds us that St. Paul had a very difficult lot as well. The apostle called it a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor 12:7). Kuyper says it was a trial that felt “as though a demon assaulted [Paul] and beat him with fists.” The thorn was given to Paul so that he might stay humble and also experience the sweetness of God’s grace. Kuyper notes that Christians who suffer should remember from Paul’s experience that God’s fatherly plan for us in suffering is a gracious one. This way we won’t despair when our prayers for relief are not answered in the affirmative.
Kuyper also writes that sometimes suffering is long, intense, and doesn’t let up. It seems like suffering is our permanent state of existence. To the sufferer,
“Every morning the affliction is new, and every evening he pours out again his complaint before his God. Ineradicably the sense that we were not created to suffer continues to struggle against the pain that restlessly accompanies him upon his pathway through life.”
Often what happens at this point is that the sufferer looks around at others who are happy and healthy. Then who can stop this “sad complaint” from arising: “O, My God, why am I not as they?” On top of this Satan comes and tempts the sufferer to grumble: “If you are a child of God, where is your heavenly Father to help you?” Satan mocks: “Where is your God?” The suffering continues, and some believers at this point seriously backslide in the faith.
But Kuyper said it can be otherwise. Sometimes the suffering child of God realizes that the Lord can use the suffering to “reveal in him the majesty of His grace.” Prayers for deliverance continue, but the soul becomes convinced “that in such suffering God intends something different with us.”
“That such suffering does not come upon us by chance, but comes to us from Him, and that He chose us to bear this suffering, that in this our suffering it might become evident, even with suffering most prolonged and bitter, what sacred medicine of soul grace is.”
“And if the eye might but open to this, O, then each day brings experience of new grace; till finally the spirit made willing in us begins to cooperate with grace, to triumph over this suffering and to show Satan and the world, that the happiness God’s child enjoys, is too rich and too abounding to be shadowed even by severest suffering.”
“And so at times sufferers have been seen, who were so gloriously disciplined by grace and in grace, that at the last it seemed, as though they had become insensible to their trouble, yea, that they took pleasure in it, with a heavenly smile upon their face to mock their suffering.”
If you are suffering, I pray God gives you the eyes of faith to see that his grace is sufficient for you in your weakness even right now. As Paul said in his trial, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10). Suffering is so hard; it is a heavy, heavy burden. But God’s grace lightens the load, shines light on the path, and makes it possibly for us to joyfully make it through suffering. And remember, your trial will not last. When Jesus returns, he’ll renew your body and you will no longer have any pain, sorrow, trials, or tears (Phil. 3:21; Rev. 21:4).
The above quotes and thoughts are found in Abraham Kuyper’s 23rd meditation of In the Shadow of Death (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1929).
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015