Sometimes, Suffering IS Necessary

Acts 1:15-17
15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus–17 he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.”

In this first chapter of Acts, the remaining 11 disciples have just seen Jesus ascend into Heaven, and they are feeling a bit bereft, trying to choose a replacement for Judas and continue their ministry without their Shepherd. They are also reeling from the shock of recent days–some of them are having trouble making sense of the reasons why Jesus had to be crucified, or why He had to return to Heaven. You can imagine the questions going around in their minds: “Why did God let this happen? And why is Jesus now ascended rather than staying with us?”

At this point, Peter intervenes, reminding them that Jesus’ birth, betrayal by Judas, and death were all foretold for thousands of years in the Old Testament (the Scriptures referenced here). All of Jesus’ suffering, as well as the betrayals and failures that led up to His ultimate sacrifice on the cross, were all necessary, not just to fulfill some old words, but to gather God’s people back to Him. In a way, the disciples, even Judas, did what they were supposed to do. (Hard to conceive of Judas doing something he was supposed to do, isn’t it?)

We, too, have a hard time reconciling how God could let us suffer, especially if we view ourselves to be faithful and righteous believers. “How could God let this happen to me?” we ask. “Maybe God just doesn’t exist, because I’m suffering and nothing seems to be getting better.” Hard times can drive believers away from God, as they sit insulated by their own grief and pain, feeling bereft by God. And yet, suffering can develop us in ways we never expected, and can shape us for the better as we struggle to cope with our current situation.

For instance, during my failed attempt at becoming a teacher in 2009, I wondered at times what–if any–good could come from the series of unexpected difficulties and failures I faced. Eventually I had to quit or risk becoming even more suicidal than I already was. Yet since I quit my teaching degree program, I have seen how that time of suffering developed me, even though it was unconscionable at the time to me. I needed to be shown that I indeed COULD fail, that I was NOT perfect, and that God (and my human loved ones) loved me anyway. Just as the disciples had to be reminded that Jesus’ great sacrifice was for the betterment of all, I had to be reminded that I needed to rely on God for wisdom in choosing my life’s course. It was not an easy, comfortable reminding process, but it was necessary.

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