Find a way to get joy out of pain, suffering

Published 9:33 am Wednesday, December 20, 2023

By Lloyd Albritton

One of the most difficult spiritual principles for most people to understand is the idea that there is anything to be found in pain and suffering, but pain and suffering. I am not familiar enough with the beliefs of non-Christian religions that I can speak for them, but I am impressed that most of the world’s religions who seek spiritual understanding and universal truth embrace this idea as well, i.e., that not only are we able to cope with and overcome pain, suffering and misery through an abiding faith in God, but that pain, suffering and misery are actually necessary for us to achieve the ultimate and greatest joys of life.  Even those who profess to believe in this lofty principle often buckle when actually set upon by adversarial forces and are quick to curse God for His seemingly deliberate cruelties to those who are supposed to be his beloved children.  They ask themselves, “How and why would a loving and compassionate God allow his children to suffer so much pain in so many ways?  Surely there is a better way.”

The New Testament story of Jesus Christ, who suffered pain beyond human understanding, not just on the Cross on the day of his crucifixion, but primarily in the Garden of Gethsemane the evening before, where he is said to have sweated great drops of blood as he literally took upon Himself the sins and suffering of all mankind, is a testament of the necessity and value of suffering, not just to balance the divine scales of justice and mercy, but to polish the soul with greater virtue not to be acquired without it.

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The Old Testament Book of Job tells the story of the sufferings of a common man who loved and trusted in God so much that he refused to deny or curse God for the physical afflictions which had suddenly and unreasonably come upon him despite his righteous life, but instead boldly declared to his critics and tormentors, “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:25-26).  The story of Job suggests rewards for suffering, saying, “the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning” (Job 42:12). Though Job was ultimately blessed with many material possessions, long years of healthy living and many sons and daughters and grandchildren over four generations, his greatest blessing was no-doubt an increase in personal virtue acquired through his faithful suffering.  In other words, he didn’t just survive his suffering, but through it he became a better man.

Considering the abundance and severity and ugliness of all the pain and suffering that has taken place throughout human history, is it not reasonable that faithless skeptics and critics would ask the question, “Is this truly the best plan that your allegedly omniscient God could come up with?  As smart as He supposedly is, could He not have come up with a better plan that would have eliminated so much pain and suffering?”  I think that is a reasonable question for an unlearned soul, don’t you?  Yet, the answer is a resounding NO!  There was no other way.

Rather, I should say that there was no other acceptable way.  There was indeed an alternate plan, and that plan was actually proposed in the beginning, before the world was, by one of God’s own influential chief executives.  His name was Satan.  Satan’s plan, however, eliminated another necessary element of joy and happiness and eternal progression called free agency.  “Behold, here am I,” said Satan in that day. “Send me, and I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor” (Moses 4:1, Pearl of Great Price).

Satan’s plan was rejected by God and he rebelled, persuading a great many others to join him in rebellion. “And there was war in heaven.  Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.  And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (Revelations 12:7-9).

I do not fully understand the precise nature of this spiritual war in heaven which took place so long ago.  My mortal mind can only comprehend the blood-and-guts wars of mortal man.  Yet, I am able to comprehend and understand this: that mortality is a necessary condition to my eternal progress (my return to the presence of God) and that the personal choices I make during my mortal life will determine the condition of my immortal, flesh-and-bones, resurrected self in the hereafter.  The Apostle Paul said, “There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.  So also is the resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor. 15:41-42).

Another no-brainer for me is that in that great spiritual war in heaven in which Satan and his angels were cast out, I chose the right side, else I would not be here now in this mortal body.  Those who chose to follow after Satan in that day were cast out into the earth without mortal bodies.  Those unembodied spirits are here among us even now, walking to and fro upon the earth, whispering their false doctrines and outright lies into the ears of all who will listen.

I have chosen to follow after the whisperings of Satan many times in my life and have suffered pain and misery as a result, without any accompanying joy whatsoever.  To be sure, I have chosen good over evil at times as well, which also led to pain and suffering, but in God’s pain and suffering I, as did Job, have always found joy and happiness in the end, as well as increased virtue in my character.  I became a better man!

When Jesus commanded, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). I do not believe he meant today, for He knew our mortal limitations.  But certainly He did mean eventually.  He wanted us to eventually become perfect, even like unto himself, for only in perfection is found ultimate joy.  And the path to perfection, accompanied by joy and happiness, includes pain and suffering.  That is the way.  The only way.