The Mystery of Suffering

Trauma is part of the human experience.  We all endure some degree of unpleasantness, and we may even live through some of the same bad experiences.  Interestingly, a shared event might destroy one person and leave another completely unmoved…while maybe strengthening someone else beyond imagination.  Sometimes, how a thing affects you depends on your outlook.  Sometimes it depends on your support structure.

Sometimes, it depends on the mercies of God.

During the late ‘50s and into the early ‘60s, doctors routinely prescribed a medicine to expectant mothers experiencing morning sickness.  Studies had shown that it was extremely effective, with nominal side effects to the recipients.  For years and through many thousands of first trimesters, Thalidomide provided desperately needed relief in countering the nausea associated with early pregnancy.  It wasn’t until the tragic reports came trickling—then pouring—in from around the globe that medical experts realized the true hazards of the drug.

The mothers seemed fine.  But some of the children?  Foreshortened limbs, missing fingers, extra toes, entire leg bones—gone.  Before the drug’s global ban in 1961, an estimated 15,000 “congenital amputees” had been born broken into the world.  As with any shared experience, though, not every Thalidomide newborn was as badly mutated as the next.  In fact, some children seemed to have entirely escaped any ill effects.

With morning sickness still prevalent and no wonder drug to combat it, manufacturers hurriedly developed and marketed a few replacement remedies.  My own mother received one of these while pregnant with me.  As it turned out, the replacement drug was withdrawn several years after my birth for similar reasons as those that shelved Thalidomide.  Arguably, I suffered no ill effect; but as I grew up, I was reminded any time I met someone suffering debilitating deformity: this could be me.

It is with this perspective that I recently ran across a documentary on my local PBS station entitled, “Get Off Your Knees: The John Robinson Story.”  The irony is that John Robinson was born without any knees.  A congenital amputee, John has arm stumps that terminate at his elbows, partially-fused hip sockets, and foot appendages connecting to the underside of his foreshortened upper leg bones.  He’s 3’ 9”.  Nothing comes easy.  His greatest concern in preparing for college was just learning to dress himself.  But despite the obvious and daunting obstacles, he has wonderfully succeeded in ways that most could only imagine.  (He has a left-handed golf swing).

What would drive a man to overcome in such a herculean manner, when no one would blame him if he wanted to just sit life out?  Upon his birth, while John cried (as newborns do), his own father lamented the injustice of his fate: “You go right ahead and just scream.  You have a right to scream.  It’s not fair.”  As the PBS program wound down, several acquaintances shared their admiration for John’s accomplishments and how he had inspired them through the years.  Again, John’s father spoke…and he struck me by what he said.  He said this…“John’s story is emblematic of why the cross is central to the Christian faith.  The mystery of suffering is that it leads to joy.” Having a supportive father with such an outlook, it’s no wonder why John Robinson has been such a success.

The mystery of suffering is that it leads to joy.

When we look to Jesus, we see an inspirational figure.  When we see His sufferings, the crushing weight of our sins on Him, we are met with a sobering reality: that could be me.  That should be me.

After the mother of all living swallowed the bitter pill of Knowledge in the Garden, none of us was left unchanged.  The trauma of sin became every child’s experience, and there was no escaping the effect of its debilitating deformities.  We are broken people in a broken world.  Any hope of Life success comes not by way of cheery outlook, nor by the affirming support of others, but only by the mercies of God:  mercies which are precious, mercies which have a price.

Who among us is whole, who has not been made whole by the sufferings of Jesus?

When He cried out to His Father in anguish as He hung, any human father might well have said, “You go right ahead and just scream.  You have a right to scream.  It’s not fair.”  Because it wasn’t fair.  And He had a right.  But The Father had purposed that His Son get off His prayer-worn knees and go to the cross for our sins’ cure.

When we look to Jesus, He is more than an inspirational figure. He is

“the Author and Perfecter of faith, itself, Who—for the joy set before Him—endured the cross, despising its shame and has sat down on the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

Before His suffering, Jesus very clearly saw the joy it would bring to us, to His Father, to Himself.

We also have the satisfaction of knowing that, “to the degree we share the sufferings of Christ, we should keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, we may rejoice with exultation” (1 Peter 4:13).  Unbelievably, Jesus has granted us access to infinite joy by sharing in His sufferings, counting us worthy of serving alongside of Him.

Many misfortunes will happen in this life—just count on it.  But understand that there is sense in enduring its trauma.  See the joyous end through the trial.  Jesus has suffered to make you whole and renew you from sin’s damage.  Know that suffering is no longer a mystery to solve…rather, it is the pathway to joy.