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Suffering is not Optional

Fourteen years ago I spent five months with my first husband in a hospital in Florida. Most of that time was in Intensive Care as he struggled to recover from a liver and pancreas transplant.

I had to wrestle with some tough questions from friends and colleagues:

Why is this happening to you? You and Jerry are “good people”.

 Jerry was a faithful servant of Christ’s—why him?

What is God’s purpose in our suffering?

When others asked me these questions, I was able to share that as believers we are not exempt from suffering in the world, from the effects of sin and illness. Suffering is not optional; we all experience it in one way or another … difficulties at work, challenges with children, loss, illness, financial struggles. I met with a new friend for lunch this week and we agreed that everyone has a story. Another dear friend has just been diagnosed with breast cancer.  

If, as followers of Christ, we had everything going “right” for us, everyone would want to follow Jesus just for the benefits they would gain. But God has called us to follow in good times and bad. He told us that in this world we would have trouble, but not to despair, because HE has overcome the world (John 16:33b). One day everything will be made right, and what a day that will be!

God has not promised to spare us, but He has promised “never will I leave you, never will I forsake you” (Heb 13:5, NIV). He has committed to walk with us in all the paths of our lives, especially in the “valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4, NIV). And when those who are watching us see us trust God in the midst of tears, when there is hope despite agony, they begin to wonder who this God is.

After Jerry’s death, I struggled with ‘what if’.

What if he hadn’t had the transplant? Would he have lived longer?

Could the doctors have done anything different? Would a different hospital have resulted in a different outcome? 

What if everything I believed about salvation and heaven was a lie and I’d never see Jerry again? If that were the case, there was no hope—I might as well just die too.

After three weeks of intense and private struggle, God brought the scripture to my mind where the apostle Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68, NIV).

Somehow that statement of faith from Peter settled my mind and heart – the work of the Holy Spirit! And while I continued to grieve and to heal over several years’ time, the question of who I could rely on was resolved for me.

Are you hurting? Is someone you love in trouble? Have you lost hope? Look to the One who allowed Himself to be nailed to a cruel, horrible cross so that we could have forgiveness, hope, life. He knows your pain, your fear, your hurting heart. And He wants to love you through it. He might do that through scripture; through family or a dear friend. He loves you!

“Casting all your anxieties on Him because He cares for you.”

I Peter 5:7.


  1. Karen O'Connor says:

    Thank you, Carol, for reminding us that no one is exempt from pain and suffering but there is ONE to whom we can turn for comfort and direction, the one who NEVER will leave nor desert us.

    1. carolnl says:

      Thank you Karen. We’ve both walked through suffering at different stages of our lives, haven’t we. And God has been there, ever present even when we don’t ‘feel’ His nearness. What a gift!

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