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Defining Suffering

Lisa Barry: If you've ever been in a situation that made you think you might not survive it, then you've been in the furnace of affliction. It's a place that none of us would choose to go because it's painful-emotionally and physically. On the other hand, I know many people who have been in that dreadful place and they'll tell you that the experience resulted in a priceless piece of history. That's what Elisabeth Elliot wants to get across during this series called "The Furnace of Affliction." It's the assurance that any situation, if offered to God, can become a Gateway To Joy. Do you really believe that? Well, doubters and believers alike are welcome to come and test the waters as we begin this Monday edition of Gateway To Joy.

Elisabeth Elliot: "You are loved with an everlasting love." That's what the Bible says. "And underneath are the everlasting arms." This is your friend Elisabeth Elliot, beginning a series this week on the furnace of affliction. The furnace of affliction.

In Isaiah 48:10 it says, "See, I have refined you, though not as silver. I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For My own sake I do this."

I suppose if there's one subject about which I'm asked questions again and again, it's the whole subject of affliction or suffering or adversity. We wonder why. Why does God allow these things to happen?

So I want to talk about this all this week and see if we can gain some ground and perhaps calm our worried spirits. Sometimes we wonder if when we're in trouble, it's because we're being punished by God. That's a possibility, but I don't think it would apply to the majority of cases. It's just that the Lord knows that we need to be disciplined. There are all kinds of different forms of discipline. But suffering is absolutely necessary.

I've been criticized at times for talking too much about suffering, and people have said, "Why do you do it? Why do you talk so much about suffering?" The answer is very simple, because suffering is mentioned more than 100 times in the New Testament alone. Of course, there are many references in the Old Testament as well.

Now let's think first about the meaning of suffering. Ancient man was concerned with goodness. Modern man is concerned with happiness. If we look around us at what's happening in the world and think about our own experiences of suffering or the suffering of people whom we love, we certainly would acknowledge, I think, that we would not deduce from those experiences that God is love.

God's love is not a deduction. It is a fact, and it was proved and demonstrated for us on the cross of Jesus Christ. If never before, that was the shining revelation of the love of God. "This is how we know what love is: that Christ laid down His life for us." That's what it says in the first epistle of John. So the cross teaches us that there is meaning in suffering. The older I get, the more I think about the cross-the old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine.

"It has a wondrous attraction for me, the hymn writer wrote. "For it was on that old cross Jesus suffered and died, and He bore it to dark Calvary."

Is suffering meaningless? Is it for nothing? I believe that suffering is never for nothing. Is it pure chance? Is it just something that happens for no reason at all? No. It is a necessity, and the Lord Himself could not escape suffering.

Now let me give you a very simple definition, not an original one. I think it goes back several thousand years, actually. But a definition of suffering: It's having what you don't want or wanting what you don't have. Having what you don't want or wanting what you don't have.

Now I'd like to bring it sort of right down to earth to very simple little things that we would hardly ever label suffering. That word is a little bit dramatic for just the ordinary troubles of every day. For example, your husband is bringing the boss home for dinner and you want everything to be absolutely perfect. So you've got the table all set. You've got the roast in the oven. You've made a cake for dessert, perhaps. And one of the children tears around the table, manages to bump into it, pull several of the goblets off and maybe mess up the tablecloth somehow.

Well, you've got something you don't want, haven't you? You don't want a mess in your dining room. You want something that you don't have. You don't have the perfection that you thought you were going to have when your husband walked in with the boss.

Or suppose you get stalled in a traffic jam. Or the car breaks down. Or you get a call from the school that your child is sick. Any number of little things you can think of that you would not think of as suffering, and yet they are ways in which God is testing us. We live in a fallen world, and so all sorts of untoward things happen with God's permission. Let's not forget that.

I am not a theologian or a scholar, but I am very aware of the fact that pain is necessary to all of us. In my own life, I think I can honestly say that out of the deepest pain has come the strongest conviction of the presence of God and the love of God. That may be hard for some of you to believe, but in hindsight I would say that it's absolutely true. If I had not experienced sorrows and sufferings and difficulties, I don't know where I would be today. But I can certainly tell you for sure I would not be talking on Gateway To Joy.

How did I get the title for this radio program? It came to me very quickly when I was asked to think of a title. Gateway To Joy-what's it got to do with suffering? Well, it has everything in the world to do with suffering. I do believe with all my heart that every experience, if given to Jesus, can be your gateway to joy.

Janet Erskin Stewart wrote, "Joy is not the absence of suffering, but the presence of God." Joy is not the absence of suffering, but the presence of God. You who are ill today, perhaps in a wheelchair, perhaps in a hospital bed, perhaps very lonely, solitary in your house, perhaps your children have moved far away, your spouse has died. And yet I'm sure there are some of you that would be happy to testify, if you had the opportunity, that even in that kind of suffering-of loneliness and pain and illness, abandonment-that you, too, have discovered the presence of God.

When my daughter Valerie was about two years old, she wanted to know if Jesus loved her Daddy. I had taught her the song, "Jesus Loves Me." One day she looked up at me with those blue eyes of hers and she said, "Mama, did Jesus love my Daddy?" I said, "Yes." Of course, you can guess the next question. "Then why did He let my Daddy get killed?"

What was I to say? I had affirmed the fact that Jesus loved her Daddy and Jesus knew far better than we did when it was time for him to go to heaven. Jesus was not explaining all His reasons. We often say, "Why doesn't God do something?" The truth is that He is doing something, and He did do something when He went to the cross of Calvary.

It says in Isaiah 53, "Surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering. He took up our infirmities. We considered him stricken by God, smitten, afflicted, pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed."

We're talking here about Jesus Christ, who had to be wounded in order that you and I could be healed. In verse 10 of Isaiah 53 it says, "It was the Lord's will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer." There is mystery there, isn't there? It was the Lord's will to crush Him-His own begotten Son. He poured out His life unto death.

We're told that the poor and those who mourn and are hungry and are persecuted are blessed. The word "blessed" is also translated "happy." Happy are the poor. Happy are those who mourn. Happy are the hungry. Happy are the persecuted.

Well, the world's idea of course is "Blessed are the rich. Blessed are the happy. Blessed are those who have all they want to eat. Blessed are those who live in fancy houses." Quite a distinction, isn't it, between the world's list and God's.

Suffering is always required. The sooner we learn to say, "Yes, Lord; yes and always yes," the sooner we will find our gateway to joy. Whatever your form of suffering may be now, will you offer it up? Just say, "Lord, I surrender this to You and I ask You to show me my gateway to joy."

Lisa Barry: And as you take that step, here is a book Elisabeth has written on the subject that will help. It's called A PATH THROUGH SUFFERING, and it's written by someone who has been in the furnace of affliction on many occasions. You'll find new courage to put your complete trust in a God who knows exactly what He is doing. I'd also like to mention we have this book now available in large print, so give us a call for more information on either version of A PATH THROUGH SUFFERING.

Our phone number is 1-800-759-4JOY. Or if you'd rather write, our address is Gateway To Joy, Box 82500, Lincoln, Nebraska, 68501. Or why not contact us through our Web site? That address is gatewaytojoy.org. Gateway To Joy is a listener-supported production of Back to the Bible.

Tomorrow Elisabeth talks more about how to face adversity and live through it. That's next time on Gateway To Joy.

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