Giving thanks for suffering

Edvard Munch: The sick child (detail)

I’m striving to be more thankful. Self-pity is one of my habitual sins, and I’ve found thankfulness to be a wonderful antidote.

There is one place where thankfulness is particularly difficult for me. For many months I’ve watched my son struggle with ongoing sickness. I know that afflictions as well as blessings come from God’s hands, and that his purposes are only good towards my son and me (Isa 45:7; Rom 8:28-30). But when we wake to yet another day of sickness, with its attendant discouragement and worry, the words “Why do we have to go through this again?” spring more easily to mind than “Thank you.”

I have asked myself two questions: Am I to thank God not just in suffering, but also for suffering? And how is this possible? I found the answer in these words from quadriplegic Joni Eareckson Tada.

I’ve been giving thanks for most of my paralyzed life. Not only giving thanks “in everything,” as one part of the Bible tells us, but “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything” as another part commands (1 Thess 5:18; Eph 5:19-20).1  Most of us are able to thank God for His grace, comfort and sustaining power in a trial, but we don’t thank Him for the problem, just finding Him in it.

But many decades in a wheelchair have taught me to not segregate my Savior from the suffering he allows, as though a broken neck- or in your case, a broken ankle, heart or home- merely ‘happens’ and then God shows up after the fact to wrestle something good out of it. No, the God of the bible is bigger than that. Much bigger.

And so is the capacity of your soul. Maybe this wheelchair felt like a horrible tragedy in the beginning, but I give God thanks in my wheelchair…I’m grateful for my quadriplegia. It’s a bruising of a blessing. A gift wrapped in black. It’s the shadowy companion that walks with me daily, pulling and pushing me into the arms of my Saviour. And that’s where the joy is…

Your “wheelchair”, whatever it is, falls well within the overarching decrees of God. Your hardship and heartache come from His wise and kind hand and for that, you can be grateful. In it and for it.

This quote is from Joni Eareckson Tada’s foreword to Nancy Leigh DeMoss Choosing Gratitude.

  1. The theological small print: I’m not saying (and I’m sure Joni isn’t saying) that we’re to thank God for suffering in a masochistic way, as if we enjoy the suffering itself. In the Bible, grief and lament, and crying out to God, are appropriate ways to respond to suffering and pain. I can’t think of any examples in the Bible where people give thanks for suffering itself (let me know if you can think of one). Yet Joni’s verses show that we are to thank God both in and for “everything” – that is, for all kinds of different circumstances, which would include suffering. After all, God’s people are often said to rejoice in suffering (why? Because of the opportunity to suffer with and for Christ – Ac 5:41; Col 1:24; 1 Pet 4:13, because it helps make Christ known – Phil 1:4-6, because God uses it to grow our character and refine our faith – Rom 5:3-4; 8:28-30; James 1:2-3; 1 Pet 1:6-7, and because of the reward that awaits us – Matt 5:12; 1 Pet 4:13). To thank God for suffering is, I think, an expression of the confidence that our particular trial, whatever it may be, comes from God’s sovereign, loving hands and that he will use it for his glory and our good.

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