We know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now. (Rom. 8:22)
Suffering was first made real to me when I witnessed my mother struggle with asthma. Watching her fight for breath, seeing her neck strain and her chest heave, I felt helpless when her medication didn’t work and the paramedics took too long to arrive. On three occasions it nearly took her life.
But suffocation wasn’t her only suffering. When she was fifty-one, her son (my brother) was killed in an auto accident. Mentally and spiritually, she was never the same. She slid into depression and blamed herself for all kinds of things she thought could have changed the outcome of the accident. That summer, I believe, was when she lost her will to live.
Then two years ago her kidneys and liver began to fail, and her life of various sufferings advanced to a whole new level. Slowly her body shut down organ by organ until her breathing became like that of a child, easy and rhythmic, and she passed away in peace. Her suffering was over. I can look at my mom’s life and make sense of the suffering. In her final weeks she prayed, “Thank You, Lord, for this situation, for it draws me and my family closer to You.”
Suffering impacts everyone, and its purpose, at first glance, may elude explanation. But we know it gives us an opportunity to bring glory to God. It is a tool of holiness, changing us and shaping us into the image of Christ. It helps us empathize with others and comfort them as we have been comforted. It turns our attention toward heaven and Jesus’ suffering on the cross, where He paid for our sins so we might know God and have eternal life.