Devotional 2: The Purpose of Suffering & Death
(Excerpted from Sunsets by Deborah Howard, RN, CHPN, pages 138-164)
When Jesus had clearly taught the disciples about His own resurrection, they just didn't "get it." They didn't understand (or perhaps they didn't even remember) what He'd told them until after it had happened.
Well, we can't be too hard on the disciples. After all, we do the same thing with the subject of affliction, suffering, and death. Statements about the purposes of affliction appear throughout the Bible. We are told to expect trials, suffering, death, resurrection, and ultimately eternal life. (All will have eternal existence, but only some will have eternal life, the rest eternal death.) But still we seem surprised when affliction and death actually intrude into our lives. We might ask, "Why is this happening to me?" or maybe, "What did I do to deserve this?" You see, we just don't "get it."
To better understand this difficult subject, let's look at the life of the apostle Paul. The Scriptures give no greater example of a man devoted and pleasing to Christ. Paul was keenly focused on living according to the commands of Jesus Christ and boldly proclaiming them to both Jews and Gentiles.
Since he was such a holy and wise man of God, he must have been exceedingly blessed by God, right? He must have had a pretty happy existence. God would just naturally keep anything bad from happening to him, wouldn't He? But if we look at Paul's life with our natural understanding, we might conclude that God did not like this man very much.
In 2 Corinthians 11:23b-28 NIV, Paul makes a point to the Corinthians, some of whom had cast suspicions on his motives and authority as an apostle. As part of the argument he says:
"I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked. I spent a night and a day in open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches."
Quite a life. Does it make you jealous? I think not. I sometimes complain if I break a fingernail or have to skip a meal. But this is the same Paul who said, "For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hunger, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:11-13 NIV)
Why did Paul have to suffer? .... He said that his afflictions made him rely on God instead of on himself (2 Corinthians 1:8-11).
Why do we have to suffer? The author points out 15 reasons. We'll share them with you in Devotional 3.