Suffering in Harmony with the Will of God
IS IT God’s will that anyone should suffer? Does the loving Creator derive any happiness from the tribulations and trials upon his creatures? Can any good purpose be served by such bitter experiences? Did Job’s false comforter tell the whole truth when he exclaimed: “Not from mere dust does what is hurtful go forth, and from mere ground trouble does not spring up. For man himself is born for trouble, as the very sparks fly upward”?—Job 5:6, 7.
When Peter and his companions in the Christian ministry were seized and flogged by the religio-political authorities of the Jewish nation and forbidden to speak in the name of Jesus, they “went their way . . . rejoicing because they had been counted worthy to be dishonored in behalf of his name.” (Acts 5:41) The vast majority of their contemporaries in Palestine no doubt took the view that they had acted foolishly, had brought the trouble upon themselves, and were only suffering the due punishment for their folly. Nobody would bother them if they kept their religion to themselves. But they did not, and suffered for it, and rejoiced in the experience, contrary to all expectations.
Those apostles were not fanatics filled with unreasoning, uncontrollable emotions that rendered them insensible to the cruelties and hardships that beset them. This fact is certified by their lucid arguments and their sympathetic concern for all their fellow Christians. They were not insulated from the frailties and sufferings of other creatures by self-imposed penances and self-inflicted pains. Following in the steps of their Leader, they never went looking for trouble or for a martyr’s crown, but when fiery trials came upon them as a result of their faithful performance of the ministry they stood firm and rejoiced. How could they do this?
Those early Christian ministers well knew that in Eden God had decreed unremitting warfare between the offspring (seed) of the wicked and the offspring of the righteous. (Gen. 3:15) That continued state of war would produce its long train of sufferings, sorrows and casualties, but with what vividly contrasting effects! To those espousing the cause of wickedness—uncertainty, fearfulness, bitterness and hopelessness; but to those loving and supporting righteousness—confidence, boldness, fortitude and strong hope with peace. (Prov. 6:22, 23; Gal. 5:22) History continues to fulfill that long-range decree. Since that Edenic judgment day it is God’s will that those creatures who would stand firm in their allegiance to him should endure the hatred and opposition of his enemies and give proof of their integrity under test. We can bring happiness to the loving Father in heaven by faithful endurance amid Devil-inspired sufferings, for here is his own precious counsel to those who would gain approval: “Be wise, my son, and make my heart rejoice, that I may make a reply to him that is taunting me.” (Prov. 27:11) What better reply for the great taunter, Satan, than our steadfast endurance throughout all his devilish pressures, so proving him the archliar and demonstrating our love and confidence in the Supreme Sovereign!
EXAMINE THE CAUSE OF SUFFERING
It becomes vitally important, then, to examine the cause and source of our sufferings in order to determine whether we are suffering according to the will of God or not. Certainly if we are not happy in the experience, then there must be something wrong and it may be an indication that we are not enduring in the right cause. Jesus declared: “Happy are you when people reproach you and persecute you and lyingly say every kind of wicked thing against you for my sake. Rejoice and leap for joy, since your reward is great in the heavens.” (Matt. 5:11, 12) That does not mean that the happy sufferer will always have a grin on his face or a light-hearted tune on his lips. However, it does mean that he will have a deep-down sense of satisfaction derived from a conscience that is void of offense toward God. (1 Pet. 3:21) He must have the conviction that his tribulations do stem from his whole-hearted support of Jehovah’s side of the universal issue. Do you have this satisfaction and this conviction?
Multitudes there are who apply to themselves the name of Christian and who undergo sufferings and trials throughout life, entertaining the stubborn belief that they are suffering undeservedly. Some are always so busily engaged in reforming others or giving them expert advice that they never have time to consider and correct their own glaring follies. How horrified they are when the unvarnished charge of being busybodies in other people’s matters is leveled against them! Others sort out their domestic and marital and health-care problems in what they think is the right way without giving a thought to what God’s Word has to offer for their direction. At the same time they will claim to be doing God’s will. When their foolish course leads to suffering they cry out and complain and are greatly offended when that same Word of God identifies them as evildoers.
Some show hate for their fellow creatures, in word and in deed, and align themselves with political movements that have no compunction in hurting and sometimes even causing the death of humans who get in the way of their selfish schemes. God classes all such as murderers. (1 John 3:15) Still other so-called Christians seek to win their fellow men over for the promotion of some selfish purpose—political, commercial or personal. Many, too, consistently fail to render to Jehovah God the honor and service and worship that are due him. All such ones are viewed by the Omnipotent One as cheats and thieves.—2 Sam. 15:6; Mal. 3:8, 9, AV.
All these types of people are unhappy, spiteful, embittered, when adversity hits them. They have given no attention to the warning expressed by the apostle Peter: “Let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a busybody in other people’s matters.” (1 Pet. 4:15) While flouting Jehovah’s laws and ignoring his present-day comforting message of the Kingdom, they claim to be suffering for righteousness’ sake. By their foolish course and complaining attitude they are really finding fault with the perfect and loving Sovereign of the universe.—Rom. 9:20.
SUFFERING FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS’ SAKE
The reaction of true Christians to suffering contrasts so refreshingly. While doing God’s will and serving his purpose, they bear all things patiently. They know why they are called upon to suffer, and ever before their eyes is the Leader and Perfecter of their faith, Jesus, who “in the days of his flesh” suffered many things and “learned obedience from the things he suffered,” perfect man though he was. (Heb. 5:7, 8) And even he took his troubles, his supplications and his tears to the God of all comPort, his heavenly Father. What a grand example for us! Here is one great source of power to endure: constant, close communion with our Father and our God. Remember, of Moses it was said that he “continued steadfast as seeing the one that is invisible.”—Heb. 11:27.
We cannot afford to ever overlook the marvelous disciplinary effect of suffering for righteousness’ sake. Paul was doubtless drawing upon his study of the ancient holy writings when he wrote for our benefit: “No discipline seems for the present to be joyous, but grievous; yet afterward to those who have been trained by it it yields peaceable fruit, namely, righteousness.” (Heb. 12:11; Prov. 3:11, 12) Are we being trained by the discipline of Jehovah? The answer is Yes, if we maintain genuine happiness through the experiences of our ministry and go on faithfully and uncomplainingly serving. Our own disposition, opposition in our own household, the continual contrary talk of sinners, hatred from the world—whatever may be the immediate cause of our sufferings—we should maintain the right spirit if we are truly suffering in harmony with the will of God. (Gal. 5:22) Surely his mighty hand is molding and preparing us for greater and still happier privileges of service ahead in the new world. Peter therefore appropriately encourages us to “go on rejoicing forasmuch as you are sharers in the sufferings of the Christ, that you may rejoice and be overjoyed also during the revelation of his glory.”—1 Pet. 4:13.
That revelation in power when he is taking vengeance upon his enemies is now at hand. Finished now is the time for patient endurance of his Father’s reproachers. In the flesh Jesus willingly accepted the reproach and shame, but now the tables are turned and the entire host of God’s enemies will go off into shameful and utter defeat. The glory of that victory already seems to envelop the courageous warriors of the new world’s King as they now ‘take their part in suffering evil.’—2 Tim. 2:3.
As the final attack of Gog and his forces draws near, and therefore also the time of greatest suffering, let all of Jehovah’s servants stand firm. Take comfort from the promise kindly given us: “God is faithful and he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, but along with the temptation he will also make the way out in order for you to be able to endure it.”—1 Cor. 10:13.