Necessary Suffering

It surprised me.

Dr. William Hurlbut, a renowned medical doctor, lecturer, researcher, bioethicist, and committed Christian at Stanford University said it … and I had to think about it.

“Not all suffering should be alleviated.”

Bill Hurlbut

Surely I had misheard. Isn’t it the duty of the doctor to alleviate suffering? Isn’t it the goal of the Christian faith to minimize suffering? Who would allow it? Who would embrace it? Who would consider it necessary?

Of course, suffering is all somewhat subjective. Right now I’m suffering with a turned ankle. Someone else—perhaps having lost a leg—might mock the very suggestion that I’m suffering. A widow suffers the loss of her husband who passed gently in his sleep in old age. But it seems little in contrast to the terrible violence inflicted on families, women, and children in war-torn parts of the world. When we compare circumstances, we may always be better than some and worse than others. But comparisons do not ease the pain—physical or emotional.

Back to Bill Hurlbut for a moment.

“Not all suffering should be alleviated. It helps us learn about love and life.”

Yes. We can learn some truth only through hardship. Suffering teaches us much about what matters most. Suffering reminds us of our mortality. Suffering produces compassion and empathy in ways that nothing else can. Suffering beckons us to lift our eyes beyond the temporal and the physical to even greater realities of the spirit and soul (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

I will resume running as soon as my ankle mends. And I will again see a dear small woman in the early hours of some mornings. She will be bundled up to stay warm, holding the leash to her two dogs. And with her free hand she will press the lever that propels her electric wheelchair through the darkness. Bravery beyond bounds. Courage beyond imagination. Strength that surpasses anything I have.

Do I wish wholeness for her? Would I grant her physical healing if I could? Absolutely. But her suffering has exposed her heroism. With nothing more than a “Good morning” she inspires me.

And even moreso does Jesus…”who, for the joy set before him, endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). And so I fix my eyes on Him, too, grateful that His suffering was not alleviated. For, through Him, I truly learn about love and life.

Necessary suffering. Who’d have thought?

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12 Responses to Necessary Suffering

  1. Jan Neff says:

    Perhaps a little different take,but I think the suffering of others can also reveal who we are. Do we rise to help the less fortunate or do we ignore? Do we reach out to the child with autism (or the parents) or do we want to not be bothered, or worse, abort them from the womb or let them die or as in a European country, pass a law that says not only an adult but also a child can choose to end his or her life if said child doesn’t like his or her life. So we see no need for suffering – we can just end life on our own terms. Somehow I just don’t think this is what God had in mind. And you’re right, suffering is relative: I don’t want the suffering of people in the Sudan, or Christians in Muslim countries, for instance. But then I also don’t like my own suffering from being rear-ended by a driver not paying attention. Can I still find joy in the process?

  2. Tim Ross says:

    We don’t look forward to suffering. But after we have endured it and hopefully reaped a closer walk with Jesus, we can see the goodness that comes from it. I have suffered and ran from God. I suffered spiritually from that decision. I have chosen to run to God now. During suffering now, I bear-hug God. I can’t live without Him and I surely need Him during the good time and the suffering. God bless you David. Thank you for such good posts.

    • David Timms says:

      Tim, you remind me that “God is at work in ALL things for the good of those who love Him and who are called to be a part of the redemptive work of Christ Jesus.” Thanks.

  3. It seems like suffering always accompanies healing. I encourage couples in counseling to address issues head on because, like a tumor, marital problems don’t heal on their own. They need to be finagled (sp?) and sometimes removed through painful procedures, but it’s these painful procedures that eventually lead to the healing. Good luck with the ankle, Dr. Timms. I always recommend cheap Wal-Mart acetominiphin and a malt. Malts don’t help the ankle, but they sure make you feel better!

  4. Jerry Heetland says:

    Always enjoy your wonderful insight to the human condition. Its funny how we can turn our backs to the suffering that is going on all around us, when our life seems to be in order. I have tried on several occasions to forward certain messages to my son or daughter but my computer gives me a message that disallows such a transmission. Is this just a glitch in my computer or is this done on purpose? Hope all is well with you and your family and sorry about the twisted ankle. Miss seeing you at Canyon Ridge

  5. Jason R says:

    Yes, seems so true. Today I read a poignant line in a novel about Mumbai slumdwellers: “Asha grasped many of her own contradictions, among them that you could be proud of having spared your offspring hardship while also resenting them for having been spared.” (Katherine Boo: Beyond the Beautiful Forevers, 27).

  6. Those who always seem to need a quick end to suffering are not prepared for long-time struggles … Suffering ofttimes keeps one immobile for speedy recovery and teaches me patience to endure.

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