Whenever I want to put on a movie at home and don’t have anything new to watch, chances are I’m going to put on either a superhero flick or something from the Star Wars or Lord of the Rings sagas. Recently, I decided to watch Avengers: Age of Ultron for probably the eighth or ninth time.
In this most recent viewing, I was really struck by one line delivered towards the end of the film. Reflecting on some of the events that had just taken place, Natasha Romanoff (a.k.a. Black Widow) tells Nick Fury, “Nothing lasts forever,” to which Fury responds, “Trouble, Ms. Romanoff. No matter who wins or loses, trouble still comes around.” And let me tell you something, he’s not wrong!
No matter what we do or where we go, no matter how old we get or wise we become, the simple truth of life is that trouble always finds us. We can’t escape it. Jesus knew this well. As a man, He experienced a great many troubles. As Lord, He has seen all the troubles of the world, from the very first to the very last. And He made it very clear to us in John 16:33 (NIV), saying, “In this world you will have trouble.”
You may be wondering, Why? Why is trouble unavoidable? Why are things like suffering, pain, tragedy, and loss an inescapable part of life? And how do we deal with it? What can we do about it? That’s exactly what we’re going to tackle today!
The Free Will Factor
If we want to bring this to its irreducible minimum, I would argue that free will is the determining factor in pain and suffering. Everything we know about love is because of God. The Bible states very clearly that God is love. Humanity would not, and cannot, know love apart from God, because God is the source of all love, joy, and peace. In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis said, “God will look to every soul like its first love because He is its first love.”
The free will afforded to humanity was God’s second greatest gift—salvation through Jesus Christ is the greatest. Had God not made us in His image as self-determinant beings, we would never have known what true love, joy, peace, and happiness is. Why? Because we wouldn’t be able to choose.
Ask yourself, “Is love truly real if I’m forced to love without the choice to love? Is a feeling genuine when you’re programmed to feel it with no understanding otherwise? If there were no pain, or at the very least no possibility of pain, is joy truly joy?” C.S. Lewis did not believe so. He said, “Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.”
No Joy Without Suffering
In the book God Is Always Good, J. Cameron Fraser points out, “In 18 different New Testament passages, suffering and joy appear together. In fact, suffering is often the cause for joy (Romans 5:3–5; Colossians 1:24; James 1:2–3).” C.S. Lewis says, “If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.”
You can apply the same principle to the idea of trouble and its connection to love and joy. If a person never experiences any pain, suffering, or trouble, then joy, peace, and love would be without meaning. You wouldn’t understand what love truly was if not for the understanding of feeling unloved. You wouldn’t know what peace was if not for the understanding of turmoil and suffering.
God uses pain to teach us, He uses suffering and trouble to build character, to transform us and mold us.
The Benefit of Pain
Looking at pain from a different angle, the Bible speaks of the necessity of pain at times as a consequence or reaction, as a guide, and as a learning tool.
Joni Eareckson Tada believes there are various benefits to pain and suffering for humanity. The first of these benefits is that it has the ability to turn a person from a dangerous path. In her book, A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God’s Sovereignty, Eareckson Tada quotes Psalm 119:67 (NIV), which says, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.” She points out that, for David, “It had suddenly dawned on him that the trouble in this life—sorrowful, upsetting, annoying, pressure-packed, or painful as it may have been at the time—had been good for him, and had been specifically allowed by God to benefit him . . . He wasn’t saying that the trouble itself had been good. Far from it! But looking back, he could (now) honestly admit that it had produced a good effect.”
God uses pain to teach us, He uses suffering and trouble to build character, to transform us and mold us. He can use the greatest difficulties and tragedies of life for our good; to shape us into the people He wants us to be. Remember what it says in Romans 5:3–5 (NIV): “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produce perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
The Beauty of Pain
C.S. Lewis believed, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
There is no denying we’re most acutely aware of God’s character in times of trouble. Why? Because that’s when the illusion of self-sufficiency disappears and we see how weak we really are. And in these moments of weakness, we learn what God tells Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV): “My power is made perfect in weakness.” It is in our pain that God has us taste his power most intimately.
And here’s something beautiful to think about: Pain can draw us closer to God! It can make us more aware of His presence, more attuned to His Spirit, and more reliant upon Him. Christopher W. Morgan says, “In ways that we cannot fully comprehend, Almighty God suffers along with His people. None of those who are united to Him by covenant, then, suffers alone. He not only knows and cares, but He suffers with them. And, as the Almighty, He offers His repentant people His presence, power, and help. How, then, can we doubt the goodness of God? His goodness must be factored into all discussions of our suffering and pain.” So not only does He suffer with us, but He supplies us with all we need to endure it and overcome . . . to become more than conquerors.
The Trouble With Christians
While everyone will experience trouble in their lives, Jesus made it very clear that the believer will experience all manner of suffering because we are hated by the world. In John 15:18–20 (ESV), He warned us, saying, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”
How Should We Approach Trouble?
Because of His name, we will experience alienation, hate, persecution, ridicule, discrimination, and much more. Because we belong to the family of God, we don’t belong amongst the enemies of God. Because our citizenship is in heaven, we don’t fit in with the world. Eventually, being a believer may become a crime punishable by death, just as it was for the early Church! In short, we will experience trouble and hardship for being His. So how do we endure it? With joy and confidence!
Having seen every trouble of man, having experienced unspeakable troubles, including enduring our sins and shame on the cross, Jesus still says to us in John 14:1 (NLT), “Don’t let your hearts be troubled.” Basically, don’t be troubled by your troubles! You may be thinking, “Jesus, you know what I’m going through! How can you tell me not to be troubled?” Easy! Because He has the solution to all troubles, the balm to put us at ease: “Trust in God, and trust also in me.”
It can’t be that simple, Danny. Trust in Jesus and I won’t feel troubled anymore? Yes! Consider all the troubles the apostle Paul endured. Here are just a few: “Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea . . . I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked” (2 Corinthians 11:25, 27 NIV).
He was arrested, stoned to the point that the Jews thought he was dead, and experienced danger from all sides at all times. How could this man still be joyful? Because he embraced and clung to the words of Jesus. You see, John 16:33 (NIV, emphasis added) in its entirety says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
That’s why Paul is enthusiastically able to tell the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4 NKJV). That’s why in Philippians 2, he encourages these believers who are currently experiencing troubles of their own to be “like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.” Why? Because of the encouragement of being united with Christ and the comfort of His love.
You see, we can take comfort in Christ, we can trust in Him, knowing that He is greater than our problems, He is bigger than our trials, and He has overcome the world and all its troubles. We can rejoice because He is our strength. We can take heart because “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37–39 NIV).