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Suffering: Where you begin to see God

Unsplash/Nik Shuliahin
Unsplash/Nik Shuliahin

In a counseling session last week, my client grieved the death of her mother, who died suddenly from a routine surgery. Her mother’s death followed a series of tragedies. The client said something that hung with me: “I feel like my personality has changed; I see things about myself I have never seen before. Some of it good, some of it I don’t like.”

Oddly, it triggered a childhood memory for me. It was my eighth birthday, and my parents purchased a piñata. They explained the game of blindfolding participants and hitting the piñata with a bat for the candy inside. Part of me wanted to rescue the colorful little donkey. But the festivities began, and excitement dwarfed my hesitations. The beating started, and finally, the candy fell to the floor. The candy tasted like the piñata had been in a warehouse for the past 50 years. The event became a metaphor for life. People tell you that life’s beatings and challenges will sweeten your character and make you tougher. But it usually feels like 50-year-old candy.

The apostle Peter said something similar in his first letter, but with greater hope for the Christian:

“If necessary, you have been distressed by various trials so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7).

Trials are like fire, revealing new character qualities, just as metals expand from heat and distinguish the beauty of gold from ugly impurities. Suffering squeezes you from the inside and uncovers things about yourself you didn’t know — fears, jealousy, envy, pride, inadequacies. Trials provide an opportunity to evaluate what comes from the proverbial piñata. It is a self-evaluation process that gives faith depth and character, letting you direct your steps in righteousness and see God as He wishes to be known. 

The Psalmist wrote, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (Psalms 119: 71). God wants us to see the ragged pieces of our humanity that only a bat to a piñata, or fire to gold can reveal. He wants us to see that the beatings we inflect and receive — hatred, jealousy, selfishness, ego, theft, murders, addictions, immorality — are in us. “Society” isn’t messed up; you and I are messed up. The problem isn’t Republicans and Democrats; it’s sin and the human heart. And if you can’t hear your own heart, give it time; the beatings and fire eventually show up. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us our consciences, but shouts to us in our pain.”

Trials “prove your faith,” as Peter wrote. He did not mean that testing, like passing or failing a math test, proves your faith. Rather, life’s trials embolden, transform, and change the character and personality of your faith. If faith was a Jesus jigsaw puzzle, sharing in Christ’s suffering is an essential piece of the puzzle. Suffering in Christ changes the landscape and picture of your faith. You are a new creature in Christ and see Jesus with greater clarity. You know Christ in your confession and obedience, but see Him when you share His sufferings.

The suffering of Job models this process. His story begins with God touting Job’s knowledge: “There is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God, and turning away from evil" (Job 1:8). Job’s knowledge and character circumscribed his faith. It gave his faith shape, focus, and direction. It is how Job knew God and was core to his personality. 

After losing his children, home, and health, Job’s character and faith changed. Enduring the trials, Job concluded, “I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see you” (Job 42:5). It is one thing to know God through hearing, study, and disciplines of righteousness, but only through trials do you “see God.”

You see God in trials because it is where you feel it first. It is where it begins. The darkness inside us is judged. Jesus said, “For judgment, I came into this world, so the those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind” (John 9:39). Christ’s judgment is an assessment and evaluation of the soul. An inner self-evaluation aided by the light of Christ.

It is the honest self-judgment of our inner poverty and brokenness. Only in honest mourning will you find comfort for your soul (Matthew 5:4). You may know Christ, but only through sharing His sufferings will you see Him.

Dr. David Zuccolotto is a former pastor and clinical psychologist. For 35 years he has worked for hospitals, addiction treatment centers, outpatient clinics and private practice. He is the author of The Love of God: A 70 Day Journey of Forgiveness

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