Is There Any Benefit in Suffering?
WHEN faced with intense suffering, many people get bitter. Others going through the same or even worse experiences become more compassionate and tender in their feelings for fellow humans. Similarly, there are those who deny God’s very existence when subjected to prolonged hardships, while others pass through severe trials with unwavering faith in the Almighty. Why is this?
Often people become bitter and lose faith because they consider themselves too important and fail to recognize that they are sinful humans living in a world that ignores God’s law. They wrongly attribute to the Almighty the bad things for which men are to blame. Hence, they learn nothing beneficial from difficulties and, after experiencing relief, may show even more undesirable personality traits than they did formerly.
So that this does not happen to us, we should make it a point to profit from whatever may befall us. This requires having a right view toward human suffering. The Bible book of Lamentations is most helpful in putting this matter in the right perspective.
The book itself consists of five poems lamenting or mourning the terrible destruction that came upon Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians. In the third of these poems, the prophet Jeremiah, impelled by God’s spirit, pours out his intense feelings, transferring them to the whole nation under the figure of an able-bodied man. (Lamentations 3:1) Though Jeremiah had suffered along with the entire nation, the experience did not embitter him. He looked hopefully to the time when God’s favor would again be with His people and accepted what came upon the nation as a rightful execution of divine judgment.
The hope of future deliverance sustained Jeremiah. We read: “Without fail your soul [Jehovah himself] will remember and bow low over me. This is what I shall bring back to my heart. That is why I shall show a waiting attitude.” (Lamentations 3:20, 21) There was no doubt in Jeremiah’s mind that Jehovah would eventually look with favor upon His repentant people. True, they had been brought very low in utter defeat. But Jehovah would, as it were, stoop down from his heaven-high position, lifting them up from their debased state. With this thought, Jeremiah could comfort his heart and patiently wait until Jehovah would act in behalf of His repentant people.
So, when undergoing a distressing experience, we should not give up hope. We should call to mind the fact that trials have a beginning and also an end. Never will the Most High allow his faithful servants to suffer indefinitely along with those who are not his devoted people. That is why we should patiently wait until Jehovah brings certain relief.
The very fact that a person is still alive should give him reason for hope. Back in the time of Jeremiah, the city of Jerusalem and the land of Judah were desolated, and many Israelites perished. Still, there were survivors. This gave assurance of God’s continued mercy toward his people. We read: “It is the acts of loving-kindness of Jehovah that we have not come to our finish, because his mercies will certainly not come to an end. They are new each morning. Your faithfulness is abundant. ‘Jehovah is my share,’ my soul has said, ‘that is why I shall show a waiting attitude for him.’”—Lamentations 3:22-24.
If it had not been for God’s loving-kindness, his compassionate concern for his people, there would have been no survivors among the Israelites. But Jehovah God did show mercy. So his expressions of mercy would continue to flow toward his people, being renewed each morning. The fact that Jehovah’s faithfulness is abundant made certain that his mercies could be depended upon. They would be constant, never weak or ineffectual. Since the Most High remained the share, or inheritance, of his people, there was good reason for them to continue waiting for a reversal of the trying circumstances into which he had permitted them to come because of their unfaithfulness.
How to Wait Patiently
What should characterize such waiting? The book of Lamentations answers: “Good is Jehovah to the one hoping in him, to the soul that keeps seeking for him. Good it is that one should wait, even silently, for the salvation of Jehovah. Good it is for an able-bodied man that he should carry the yoke during his youth. Let him sit solitary and keep silent, because he has laid something upon him. Let him put his mouth in the very dust. Perhaps there exists a hope. Let him give his cheek to the very one striking him. Let him have his sufficiency of reproach.”—Lamentations 3:25-30.
Note that during such a time of affliction, one should continue looking hopefully to God for relief and draw closer to him. A person should want to be patient, waiting silently or without complaining until the Almighty has brought deliverance, or salvation. For a person to learn thus to bear a yoke of suffering in youth is most beneficial. Why? Because it makes it much easier for him to undergo such an experience later in life without losing hope. Knowing that he has passed through great hardships before, he has a basis for hope that he will be able to do so again.
Now, when a person has a yoke of affliction put upon him, he should not be running about voicing his complaints. No, he should sit solitary, as does a person in mourning, and remain silent. He should lie prostrate, with his mouth touching the very dust. This means that he should humbly submit to the trials that God is permitting him to bear, and he should look hopefully to the coming deliverance. He should not rise up in revolt against his persecutors but patiently put up with physical and verbal abuse. This reminds us of the way Jesus Christ conducted himself. The Bible record reports: “When he was being reviled, he did not go reviling in return. When he was suffering, he did not go threatening, but kept on committing himself to the one who judges righteously.”—1 Peter 2:23.
Another vital point to remember when experiencing suffering is that God is not giving his approval to the hateful things that men may do. The Most High does, however, permit certain things to happen with a good purpose in view. This is nicely expressed in the following words from the book of Lamentations: “For not to time indefinite will Jehovah keep on casting off. For although he has caused grief, he will also certainly show mercy according to the abundance of his loving-kindness. For not out of his own heart has he afflicted or does he grieve the sons of men. For crushing beneath one’s feet all the prisoners of the earth, for turning aside the judgment of an able-bodied man before the face of the Most High, for making a man crooked in his legal case, Jehovah himself has had no countenance.”—Lamentations 3:31-36.
In the case of the unfaithful Israelites, Jehovah God permitted them to undergo a terrible experience at the hands of the Babylonians. He cast them off to the extent of allowing them to be taken into exile. Yet, this was with a good purpose in view, namely, to produce a repentant remnant among the survivors and their offspring. It was toward this remnant that Jehovah would show mercy. The Almighty had no pleasure in punishing the Israelites. It was not his heart’s desire to cause them grief and affliction by giving them into the hands of their enemies. Jehovah did not countenance the terrible treatment these gave to his people. He did not look approvingly upon men who oppressed prisoners of war, those who denied a man his God-given rights, and those who refused to render justice in a legal case.
Accordingly, when we suffer at the hands of men, we should not blame God for the wrongs that men commit. The Most High does not approve of their oppression and violence. Eventually they will have to answer to him for their wrong deeds.
Then, again, people may bring suffering upon themselves. The faithless Israelites turned their backs on Jehovah God, rejecting his protective care. Rightly, then, he abandoned them to their enemies. So they had no basis for complaint regarding what had befallen them. This is stressed in the question: “How can a living man indulge in complaints, an able-bodied man on account of his sin?” (Lamentations 3:39) Instead of complaining, the Israelites should have repentantly returned to Jehovah, imploring him for mercy. We read: “Do let us search out our ways and explore them, and do let us return clear to Jehovah. Let us raise our heart along with our palms to God in the heavens: ‘We ourselves have transgressed, and we have behaved rebelliously.’”—Lamentations 3:40-42.
Yes, it was no time for grumbling and complaining. It was a time to look carefully at their ways, their course of life or conduct, and to consider what had been the result. Instead of continuing in their own ways to their hurt, they should return to Jehovah and conform to his commands. Outward expressions of repentance, the mere raising of the palms in prayer, were not enough. Heartfelt repentance over transgressions was needed.
So when undergoing suffering, we should look at our course of life. Have we brought troubles upon ourselves by ignoring God’s law? If so, we have no basis for blaming the Most High. Rather, we should show that we have profited from the painful discipline by forsaking the wrong course and repentantly turning to God. If we have tried to lead an upright life and yet experience affliction, we should not forget that what wicked men may do to us is not what God approves. Meanwhile, we should humbly submit to our trials, waiting patiently and without complaint until Jehovah God brings relief. If we apply the counsel of God’s Word when faced with suffering, we will benefit. We will learn patience, endurance, and total reliance on Jehovah. Never will we imitate the hateful ways of oppressive men, but we will continue to be kind and compassionate toward fellow humans.
[Picture on page 23]
Jeremiah, who composed Lamentations, could write from experience about suffering