This can be, in my opinion, a very polarized, touchy subject. It is also my opinion that it doesn’t have to be a hot button, if understood and received in the balanced way it is presented in the Scriptures.
Consider these passages for example:
John 16:33. “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”
Acts 14:22. “Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”
Romans 5:3. “And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience.”
Romans 8:18. “ For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
Romans 8:35. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”
Suffering refers to the experience of physical, mental, or emotional pain, or more to any unpleasant feeling, emotion or sensation. The word tribulation is also a good synonym; however, tribulation is more intense and means a state of great trouble or suffering.
It would seem that there are numerous Christians of a good many persuasions who believe and teach that to be in an experience of any kind of suffering or tribulation means that a Soul is somehow separated from the Love of God and His Goodness, and that it means they are outside God’s will.
For this I would direct them to the above passages, and especially the one from Acts 14:22 as well as Romans 8:35.
It seems that this view may be that of a good many people living in a “soft society” such as we mostly experience in the West. People might like to believe that it’s that simplistic. But it isn’t. This is a completely polarized view. The West has no understanding real “rights of passage” or initiations where young people actually embrace some sort of ordeal, in order to be considered as adults in their tribe or community.
No, “confirmation” when you are fourteen does not count. In most cases that amounts to lip service and little else. Neither does passing driver’s ed and acquiring your license constitute a genuine right of passage. There is no proof of depth of understanding or mastery in any respect in either of these. I would suggest that this “urge” to be challenged is, however, still present in young people. Consequently it may contribute to their joining a gang or embracing some daredevil stunt in order to feel they have passed into some space of acceptance, or proven themselves in some way. There’s something written into the fabric of our being which almost tells us that hardship is a required “test”.
I would offer that, for the spiritual Christian, suffering and its cousin tribulation have their place along the path, as is clearly evidenced by the foregoing passages. They are neither “good” nor “bad”. Certainly they have their purpose. Certainly God does not expect us to go out looking for suffering, or taking the lash to our own backs in order to bring it on, as the monastics of old used to do.
First of all Jesus simply states a fact of life especially for true disciples – that “ye shall have tribulation”. Personally I don’t know anyone who’s exempt from this. We live on this Earth in a fallen Cosmic Reality, outside of the perfect Celestial Reality which was our home. “Difficulty” in all its forms is the natural outcome of, shall we say, getting into the car with the candy man, when you’ve been told not to even talk to strangers!
Secondly, per the Scriptures, it is through much tribulation that we enter the Kingdom of Heaven! Might this be God’s own rite of passage for His fallen ones, to cleanse and purify us from sin? Could we look at suffering then as a method of Grace, a sort of gateway where we’re challenged? It’s something we go through to either bring us to a greater wisdom and knowledge in God, or to help us realize how badly we’d really like to go Home. Or both.
Many people are miserable when they first come to the Lord. It’s the driving force that brings them to the feet of Jesus. [Some afterwards.] These things may indeed be like the hammer and chisel of the Divine Sculptor to bring His work – us – to completion, to unearth more joy, healing, fulfillment, love, life, fruits of the Spirit, His likeness… by chiseling away all the worldly entanglements and attachments which make people miserable, as they live in their consciousness outside the Kingdom of Heaven, as they march to the beat of their own conundrums.
This always leads us to the Cross – the quintessential example of the suffering, the fiery ordeal of the God’s Son! We see Jesus suffering abysmally in His body, and yet we must ask, what must His greater spiritual burden have been like – experienced in space, time, and physicality as the Son of man, but also as the Son of God? Unimaginable! He knew what awaited in the Garden, as He asked the Father to please make some other way for redemption to happen, that if it were possible, to let this cup pass. But it could not be otherwise.
If prayer is anything in most cases, it is a cry to be relieved of some sort of discomfort, which may not always be for the highest good. It is a tough mystery to grasp that God might use suffering as a tool in His hand… Thy will, not mine…