“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” This famous Buddhist quote attributed to Japanese writer Haruki Murakami carries a great deal of truth. The proposition, however, is that we choose not to suffer. If pain is something we can never avoid, we can choose not to be stuck in suffering.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ, however, does not try to avoid suffering. The whole Gospel is based on the choice of a Father, God himself, who decided to suffer the loss of his Son, and the Son himself who chose the cross. Their choices were inherently connected to the greater good of human redemption and their own glorification.
Talking about the “Suffering Church” can be tricky. Some people construe that we are merely talking about the poor and needy. However, our experience with persecuted Christians from all over the world has led us to understand that, just like our Lord and Savior did, many of them do suffer by choice. Many of those suffering souls could simply deny their faith, for instance, and no longer be persecuted in their homelands.
As members of the Western church we claim to suffer for very minute reasons, and most Christians clearly recognize that in comparison, others suffer even greater challenges because of their faith. The question then is, how can they do that? How do they stay resilient through their suffering, if many of them could just walk out of it?
First, they truly grasped what eternity means. On numerous occasions I heard persecuted Christians in the Middle East say that they were not afraid of death. One of them even stated that nobody could kill a dead man, clearly referring to the death of his old self and his new condition in Christ (Gal. 2:20). Indeed, it is not possible to kill a Christian, all one could do is to anticipate his eternity.
Secondly, they know there is a spiritual component of this fight. The Bible clarifies that we are not fighting against men, but against a whole spiritual system (Eph. 6:10-20). In the video The Nine: Overcoming ISIS, an Iraqi Christian affirms, “I know from the Bible that this is not them. It is Satan who leads them. They are people just like me but Satan controls them. I forgive them with all my heart and we love them.” It would probably be unbearable to suffer for Christ being fueled by hatred and bitterness. These brothers and sisters understand there is another war going on, for which they completely depend on God.
Thirdly, they see their suffering as worship. They understand that God is glorified when they stand firmly in the courage of their convictions. They choose to rejoice and be glad for the honor of suffering for Christ (Mat. 5:10-12). Their true song to the Lord is sung in the midst of the turmoil. Under extreme risk and oppression they compose their psalms.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, they believe that God has a plan. 1 Peter 4:19 says, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” These brothers and sisters truly believe that God is at work amidst their struggles. He does have a plan and it has to be good one.
May these lessons inspire and encourage us to keep pressing on through our suffering. Yes, pain is inevitable. As for the true Christian perspective, suffering is pain with purpose, and if the purpose glorifies God, then it is not something we should want to avoid.