Are the difficult times in life good or bad? You might read that and think, “How could difficult times ever be good?” Well, when we experience suffering, we tend to feel more helpless and needy and thus we pray more. Increased levels of communication with God, as with any relationship in which greater communication almost always results in being closer to the person, leads to a good change: increased intimacy with God. Maybe difficult times, then, are good?
So many of us have experienced a deep closeness with God during the hard times. Therefore, we sometimes say that the phrase, “During times of suffering, you’ll be closer to God.” But is it true?
What we have seen in this series fact-checking phrases that Christians commonly believe is that, like the two-liner statements in the biblical Proverbs, many of these phrases are not guaranteed promises, but they are statements that are generally true. The same can be said about “during suffering, you’ll be closer to God.”
While generally true, we need to see that this statement is sometimes false, given that some people have gone through suffering and lost their faith! So this statement is not a promise. Suffering often brings us closer to God, but it also sometimes crushes faith. We need to be very sensitive to that. Many people in the midst of suffering are having a crisis of faith. God gave us free will, and there are many responses to difficult circumstances.
And that brings us to our next statement. When people are in the midst of suffering, we say, “This too shall pass.”
How many of you say this? Or have heard it said? It is a go-to phrase for many. Is it in the Bible? Nope. So why do people say this?
Because people in the midst of struggle are really having a hard time, and they need hope. So we tell them “this too shall pass,” trying too give them hope that the pain will eventually finish. But is that true?
Generally, yes. Most difficult times have an end date. Yet in the midst of the difficulty, it is very, very hard for us to be comforted by a possible good future. We are in the pain now, and we can think that the rest of our lives will be this way.
So there is a tension in the reality of life. Whether it is a health situation or a financial situation or a difficult relationship, it is generally true that they almost always pass, get resolved. But not always. Look, for example, at 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. Paul reminds us that our troubles will all pass. Here’s the thing thought: the pain might not be done until we die and are pain-free in heaven. But it will pass.
That is a harsh reality…this too might not pass until we die.
One of my first acts as senior pastor was to gather a bunch of people to meet with an elderly man in our congregation to pray for him and anoint him with oil. He was sick and was hoping and praying for healing, and God did not answer that prayer for healing. James 5 even says that God will heal. Instead, a few months later that man passed away. The sickness did not pass on this side of heaven. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians that he, himself, had what he called a “thorn in the flesh” and he asked God numerous times to take it away. We don’t know what the thorn was. Could be a broken relationship. Could be a health problem. Could be an enemy. But God never takes it away from Paul.
So again, we have a proverbial phrase. Pain generally will pass and things will go back to normal. There are most often seasons in life. And seasons come and go. Writing this in the northeastern United States in early March, I am personally ready for the warmer temps of spring! In parenting, there are seasons. We recently had an interesting conversation with one of our college-age sons. He was home for a visit, and somehow we got to talking about these seasons in life. My wife mentioned that once our kids turned 12-15 years old, we as parents suddenly lost most of our knowledge and became dumb and irrelevant. But once the kids turned 19-20, we parents amazingly became smart again! There are seasons, and the statement “this too shall pass” reflects how that is generally true. Most often, the difficulty comes and goes.
But not always. So again, be sensitive to those in pain. They are in the middle, struggling. Encourage them and be with them in the pain. But, do not give false promise that it will guaranteed be taken away. That is not a promise God gives. We can and should hope for that, work towards that and pray for it. But, that is different than saying that God has made it a promise.
As we talked about earlier, in the pain, many can have a crisis of faith. Sometimes we think “God why are you allowing me to go through this?” And it seems to us that God is silent. Nowhere to be found.
So how should we respond in the midst of pain? Check back in to part 5, and we’ll explore how to have a healthy approach to the difficulty in life.