Our small group tonight started a study of the book of James, our primary topic this evening was on suffering – not necessary the major life altering sufferings – but the daily struggles and trials that upset our plans and frustrate us, but that God is trying to use to form our character. It isn’t just the “big” sufferings that God uses, He used the little daily “stuff” too. In fact, at times, the major battles are easier as they are obvious, but we can easily miss the small battles that actually have a huge impact on our spiritual growth. Below is a piece I wrote awhile back that was published elsewhere, but I wanted to post to my blog for my small group and to archive it here for future reference.
Fear leads to anger.
Anger leads to hate.
Hate leads to suffering.
One of Yoda’s most famous quotes, from the second half of the Star Wars saga, is his ominous warning to the young Anakin, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suf-fer-ing.” (Did you read those words with the appropriate Yoda inflection?)
I certainly don’t doubt that fear leads to anger, or that anger leads to hate, and hate certainly leads to suffering. What I’d like to challenge from this sage quote is the assumption that the worst possible state of being is suffering.
The point of Yoda’s warning is that we are to avoid fear, anger, and especially hate because they lead to the ultimate evil: suffering. ANYTHING to avoid suffering! Please, do not fear… you may suffer! Please, do not get angry or hate… or you may suffer! And suffering is to be avoided at all costs! According to Yoda, suffering is the worst possible outcome of any situation! It must be, because Yoda concludes his platatude with ‘suffering.’ He adds not, “Suffering leads to….” for there is nothing worse than suffering. (Insteresting, that despite the Jedi’s lack of fear or anger so much suffering still entered their personal worlds as the saga unfolded, could they have been avoiding the wrong outcome?)
In sharp contrast to the wise Yoda, are the words of Jesus Christ, who promises “in this world you will have troubles.” (John 16:33) Better translated in the KJV as “Tribulation.” I’m not about you, but tribulation sounds a lot like suffering to me! And we don’t LIKE to suffer! And Jesus doesn’t say we might, we says we WILL! So what do we do when we suffer as Christians? I’ve often tried to make my response to be, “what is God trying to teach me in this?”
Oswald Chambers, as he often does, shatters even my best efforts to look at things from God’s point of view, when he writes, “If you are going to be used by God, He will take you through a multitude of experiences that are not meant for you at all, they are meant to make you useful in his hands, to enable you to understand what transpires in other souls so that you will never be surprised at what you come across.” I read that and was floored. It may not be “what is God trying to teach me” – for that is still self-focused (what will I get out of this?) – instead, it may be instead, “what is God doing in me for the sake of others?”
Oswald continues, “God’s way is always the way of suffering.” What would Yoda have to say to that? We resonate with Yoda’s warning because we are motivated to AVOID suffering, but God says that suffering is THE WAY to His purposes – purposes that are much lofter than merely the avoidance of pain.
Don’t undestand your suffering? Take heart, Oswald comforts, “We never realize at the time what God is putting us through; we go through it more or less misunderstandingly.” So rather than rush to understand, or even get through it, rush to obey.
He suggests when we suffer we ask ourselves, “Is Jesus educating you into a personal intimacy with Himself?” I’m learning that Jesus is ever pressing for only one thing – not greater ministry works – but simply genuine intimacy with Himself. He adds, “This can never be until a personal need arises out of a personal problem.”
Without a personal knowable God, Yoda’s highest acheivement can only a lack of suffering, and even the great master jedi could not avoid that! Fortunately, we have a higher goal than a comfortable life, we can know our Creator! But that knowledge comes only through suffering, for the simple reason (I hate to admit) that suffering is the only thing that seems to draw us Godward. Without suffering – would we ever truly completely turn to God? Apparently not.
Many things lead to suffering, but suffering leads to intimacy with our Creator, so avoid it not!