Even though we have enjoyed the warm days and blue skies, we are still anxious about the effects of the pandemic. Being affected to this extent is a new feeling for some people, but suffering has always been a part of life. History informs us that many have felt as if they were, “Walking through the valley of the shadow of death.”
Studying the lives of a few biblical figures and prophets will reveal their hardships as they upheld the messages of God’s love and power. They demonstrated their faith by their actions and sacrifices. This study might help us understand that suffering is inevitable, and learning to cope is necessary.
Some people explain suffering as the result of wrongdoing. Sometimes good deeds are rewarded and bad deeds are punished, but it is necessary to view life and suffering in a broader context. For example, Joseph was sold into slavery, which brought him great suffering. He crossed through valleys of despair and climbed hills of hope to be instrumental in freeing his people and fulfilling God’s will.
Job appeared to be a good man, but he suffered hardships that would have challenged anyone’s faith. His friends thought he must have committed bad deeds to be so horribly punished. The story revealed God’s will to prove that Job would remain faithful. God detected Job’s pride, which can be found in most people. The text describes God’s way of teaching Job a lesson. God is all-powerful and infinite; people are finite with troublesome wills. Suffering can lead to despair or it can forge a stronger will. Humility serves to balance one’s priorities for a more fruitful life.
We tend to think about prophets as seers, but their knowledge and wisdom did not come from supernatural revelations. The prophets were wise and knowledgeable about religion and politics of their day. They were authorized spokesmen. The prophet Isaiah is a good example of a wise man and a spokesman for God. He foretold the coming of a messiah 700 years before Jesus’ birth.
As active messengers of God’s love and will, some prophets were killed or punished for their beliefs. Some spoke truth to power and suffered the consequences. Nathan told King David that he would pay for his relationship with Bathsheba in 2 Samuel, Chapter 12.
Zechariah told the people of Judah what God said in 2 Chronicles 24:20,“Why do you disobey the Lord’s commands? You will not prosper. Because you have forsaken the Lord, he has forsaken you.” The people plotted against Zechariah and stoned him to death outside the Lord’s temple. Jeremiah was a preaching prophet. The punishment for spreading God’s word was recorded in Jeremiah 20:1-2, “When the priest heard Jeremiah prophesying, he had Jeremiah beaten and put in the stocks in the Lord’s temple.”
John the Baptist paid the price of his faith when he spoke truth to power and was beheaded by Herod. Even though the prophets suffered, they remained true to their beliefs and kept the faith alive.
Moving from biblical times to our present society, we need to be committed to curing ills whether they are physical, mental, political or spiritual. On a personal level how do we manage? “Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long,” Psalm 25:4-5.
Making our faith a verb, not a noun, will demonstrate that our faith is active. An open heart and an extended hand will find workable ways to help those with needs. Another suggestion would be to reread Psalm 23 carefully until the calmness and assurance overcome anxiety and the sadness of suffering.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”