It is difficult to go through suffering in a land of prosperity, especially when many in the church have bought into the lie that following God means you will not suffer. In fact, the Bible says the exact opposite in Acts 14:22 “We must go through many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” The formula that if you just follow God, He will of course bless and heal you and your life on this earth will be perfect or at least not too difficult just isn’t true.
Let me start out my saying that I have lived almost half of my life overseas. I became a Christian in Nigeria as a teenager. My family and I lived and served in Kazakhstan for 16 years. I have seen the expression of Christ in many parts of the world. I have also seen plenty of suffering among faithful believers andI myself have suffered deeply.
I have now been back in the U.S. for a decade. To be honest I am dismayed at how much the American church has allowed culture and politics to overlay the gospel. and teachings of Christ. We have unwittingly permitted so much of our culture to creep into our faith that we cannot see it for what it is. One part of American culture is the “can do” and “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality. In terms of faith, this can too easily translate into me getting what I want from God because I have a strong faith or prayed correctly or worshipped enough. Thus when people suffer, there is an underlying feeling that they must have not pressed into their faith enough.
The bigger issue is that we have not done a good job in the American church with teaching about suffering. We unconsciously link “Jesus love me” with “Jesus will give me a happy life.” I think the book of Job plus numerous other Bible passages contradict that thought. When we don’t prepare believers for suffering, they don’t know what to do with it. I think this is why so many people, even Christians, have turned to conspiracy theories and blaming other people. The remedy, I believe, is to honor those who are suffering and to teach the church that yes, God can and does allow suffering to come to His people but it does not mean He isn’t in control or doesn’t love us. I think of C.S. Lewis who when describing Aslan wrote “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you.”