I can remember where I was on the road near my house when I prayed, "God, bring affliction into my life, if that's what it takes to know you more intimately." I had the sense that God was preparing me for something, and I didn't know what it was. If I had, I don't think I would have prayed that prayer.
I had noticed that very few people go through life without some sort of intense suffering. I guess I also had the sense that it was my turn. I had not known a great deal of sorrow in my life. And while I would not describe my life as easy, I've certainly been incredibly blessed. So as I looked at the world around me, I wondered, When will it be my turn for pain?
You probably did not invite difficulty into your life. More likely, it was thrust upon you. In fact, most of us spend our lives doing everything we can do avoid suffering. In today's modern world, we expect a cure for every illness, a replacement for every loss, a fix for every failure. We are shocked and shaken when hardship comes our way.
But look around. How many people do you know wh have escaped experiencing profound difficulty at some point in their lives? Look at the Scriptures. Can you find a person in the Bible-even the godliest of persons-who did not suffer greatly?
Job wasn't looking for suffering, and yet it doesn't seem to catch him off guard. Just as his wife wants him to completely give up on life and give up on God because of her suffering, Job says to her, "Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?
Job's acceptance and even expectation of both good and bad things from God is in sharp contrast to our expectation today, which is why we have such a hard time responding to suffering in a godly way like Job did. We have an unspoken expectation that a good God will bring only what we consider to be good things into our lives. We never expect him to allow and perhaps even to bring difficulty into our lives. But he does.
Does that surprise you? Does that bother you?
We might not say it, but in the back of our minds we somehow thing that because Job was so godly, he should have been spared from pain. But the truth is, often people who follow God suffer-not less but more. Have you ever noticed that people who suffer are marked with a beauty, a deepening, a transformation? This only occurs, however, when they can enter the suffering and look around for God in the midst of it. Otherwise, they are marked with bitterness and emptiness.