Surprised by peace? Surprised by suffering? What do you expect?

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What is your baseline perspective on life? Do you tend to believe that life should work pretty well and are surprised when suffering and pain enter your life? Or, do you tend to believe that life is hard and are surprised and pleased when it is not so hard or when you have moments of peace?

Perspective is pretty much everything. If you are driving during rush hour and you expect that traffic will be really bad but it turns out to be better than you feared, you probably feel great. But, if you were thinking your drive would take you one hour but it took two, you probably feel a bit frustrated. Both drivers might travel exactly the same amount of time but have opposite perspectives.

Expectations shape our feelings and perceptions of how life is going for us. Now, I am NOT arguing that if you just think happy thoughts, you won’t be bothered by problems in this life. No matter your perspective, you will suffer. To think otherwise would be denial of reality. But behind most of our “this is not fair…why would God allow this…I’m not sure I want to believe in a God who allows pain to happen” kind of comments are some assumptions and expectations that reveal what we believe life should be like.

Consider these assumptions or expectations. See one that gets you?

1. Life should be fair and should work. This could be called the Jonah perspective. Yes it should. But since sin entered the world, it isn’t. Instead of blaming God, might we not want to notice how many times in life, things are fair, just, and good? Might we not want to see that God is giving us better than we deserve? How might that mindset modify our general view of God’s care for us?

2. I have sacrificed much for God, why hasn’t he given my good and decent desires)? This one is similar to the 1st point but focuses along the lines of Psalm 73. Fairness is seen along the lines of righteousness. The good guys get blessings and the bad guys get suffering. If we hold this expectation then it is common to feel gypped when we don’t get our good desires met.

3. Suffering is something that is temporary, something to get through. This is an American viewpoint. We can overcome obstacles, we can heal the sick, we can fix problems. Once we get our education, get married, get the job we wanted, get our 401Ks then life will be good.


Filed under Christianity, Doctrine/Theology, Insight, suffering

10 responses to “Surprised by peace? Surprised by suffering? What do you expect?

  1. D. Stevenson

    To be fair to those who voice the Psalm 73 viewpoint. It is a natural response when God says one will be blessed and the other cursed. Maybe a person must know Hebrew and be skilled in hermeneutics to understand. The rest of us wonder why God says one thing and seems to do (or allow) another.

    • True, our problem is that we think of blessing and cursing in our own time frames…and when it doesn’t, then we begin, like the author of Ps 73 to think God is not keeping his word. That is the struggle we face.

      ********* Philip G. Monroe, PsyD Professor of Counseling & Psychology Director, MA Counseling Program Biblical Seminary 200 N. Main Street Hatfield, PA 19440 215.368.5000, x142 Following Jesus into the world

  2. Scott Knapp

    I like how the pervasive American philosophy was articulated: “…something that is temporary, something to get through.” We like to say that “what doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger” so as to give palatable meaning and purpose to suffering. That breaks down when the ultimate purpose of the suffering is to break you to helplessness, so you’ll accept the need of God and others, which appears to be the opposite of the kind of “stronger” we’d often like to achieve: independence and self-reliance.

    • D. Stevenson

      That’s the purpose of suffering? Makes sense. Except, if the answer is that easy, why have people questioned suffering down through the ages? Perhaps it is because some things bring such horrific suffering? There is a big difference between my house burning down and the suffering of the people starving in Somalia. Does it take a lot more to “break” some people? Or, how do you explain the already “broken” (from what we can tell) who are still excruciatingly suffering.

      • I think we have to be very careful in determining the reason/purpose for suffering. Ultimately, we can’t speak with specificity for cause or purpose beyond that we are to reach out and hold on to God in the midst. Maybe one of our human problems is that we struggle with not knowing why.

      • Scott Knapp

        I think how I worded that sentence could have been a little more precise. What I meant was “when the case may be that the purpose of a particular time of suffering” is to be broken. I agree with the blog author that we’ll rarely, if ever, have a definite or “ultimate” handle on the purposes behind our suffering. Interpretation of so many life events is like throwing hand grenades…the best you can usually hope for is to get “close enough”.

      • D. Stevenson

        Yes Phil. God’s answer to Job’s “Why?” was, “I am God, trust me.” We walk by faith, not by sight. Perhaps suffering is a blessing from God, allowing us to worship Him. I am thinking of 1 Peter 1:6-8, or how about Philippians 1:29.

        Or how about 2 Timothy 1:8. Was that entreaty only relevant to Timothy or does it also apply to us? Or how about Philippians 3:10? If we haven’t suffered, maybe the better question is, “Why not?”

  3. I believe neither of your perspectives on life offered here. Life, with the blessing of God, should at least work out “pretty well,” and mostly should be a blessed life. You mention the perspective that “life is hard.” I think that life can be hard, and life can present some surprises, but it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom, or all pleasure and prosperity.

    Also, in your illustration, how can both drivers travel the same amount of time? The first driver finds the rush hours traffic to be better than expected, so one could conclude that the drive would have taken one hour; and the driver in the other situation travels for two hours?

    I agree with you that expectations do shape our feelings and perceptions. But “suffering” may mean different things to different people. We all face hardships from time to time, but I think that Joseph’s suffering in prison, or Job’s pain and loss, Jonah’s distress, or Paul’s persecution for his faith are not typical for most of us. I don’t know what you mean by “you will suffer.” I have experienced forty-five years of life as a pastor, and now as a licensed counselor. My wife and I have raised a family, and have several grandchildren. I have made a number of mistakes, and have mishandled responsibilities at times, but I cannot say that I have suffered, unless I define being “bothered by problems” as suffering.

    • Dr. MacMahon, we probably do see things differently. John 16:33 says in this life we will have trouble but to take heart because Christ has overcome the world. I assume that is a direct prediction by Jesus that we will suffer. I think if you ask most Christians, they will express that life is hard. Now, I don’t think we have to be gloomy about it. When I talk to Africans in Rwanda who have suffering immeasureably, many are not that gloomy.

      I’m glad you have not suffered much. But I think we ought not discount the sufferings of Jesus and the fact that he has called us to follow him into sufferings as well. Let us not think that his sufferings were easy or that ours will be either.

    • D. Stevenson

      Dr. MacMahon,
      I wonder how your lack of suffering has impacted your pastoral and counselor interaction with people. I wonder if you have left a path of wounded people in your wake. I have a hard time believing that someone in a pastoral or counselor position who has not themselves been broken can minister without wounding at least someone. — Not that you have. Not that you would know if you had. I could be wrong.

      As far as you being a pastor, counselor, husband, father, grandfather…, Respectfully, so what. You could be the pastor of a mega-church, a renowned author, a revered spiritual leader and I still say so what.

      I learned long ago that spiritual giants are a fairy tale, and a harmful one at that. We are all on equal ground at the foot of the cross.

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