Suffering as an Opportunity to Glorify God

“Teacher, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?”

“Neither he nor his parents sinned,” Jesus replied, “but this happened that the works of God might be made manifest in him.”

In today’s Gospel lesson, we get a glimpse into understanding the mystery of suffering.  Many people often will ask, “Why do people suffer?  Why does a good God allow pain and problems in the world?  The disciples posed this question to Jesus today in the Gospel story.  They saw a blind beggar, a man who had been blind since his birth, and they wanted to know why this person was born blind?  Was it because of some sin his parents had committed, or some sin that he did? 

Jesus doesn’t answer the question about why someone suffers. We live in a fallen world, and in such an imperfect world suffering exists. Instead, Christ helps his disciples look at suffering from a different perspective. He challenges them to think about how one can turn suffering into something good. “How can we glorify God through our difficulties,” He basically asked.

Of course, Christ gave the greatest example of transforming his own suffering and death itself into a victory! He used something horrible and painful, crucifixion on the Cross, and came out of this suffering with a positive result, the Resurrection. And it is not only Jesus, but many of His followers throughout history did the same thing. They endured much suffering and pain, they tolerated unbelievable difficulties during their earthly lives and transformed them into moments of profound witness for the glory of God. In fact, the manner by which they endured their suffering led others to faith in Jesus Christ!

We have a great example of this in today’s epistle reading, where we hear how the Apostles Paul and Silas were unjustly arrested, mercilessly beaten with rods, and then thrown into prison with their feet locked. For doing nothing wrong! And yet, how did they respond to this injustice? They spent the night in prison praying and singing hymns to God. In fact, the entire prison could hear their prayers and hymns.  As a result, a miraculous earthquake occurs and the prison doors are thrown opened.  Paul and Silas don’t use this as an opportunity to escape prison, however, instead they use it as a chance to preach the Good News to the prison guard, and tell him about the path of salvation in Jesus Christ. From their unjust and painful suffering, the prison guard comes to believe in Christ, and he and his entire family are baptized that very night. Paul and Silas’ suffering leads to the salvation of the prison guard and his family. Paul and Silas turn their suffering into victory, their affliction becomes an opportunity for the glory of God.

Here is a great lesson especially during these uncertain days of the worldwide pandemic. Many people are suffering from the coronavirus itself, the death it has caused, and the economic woes it has placed on the world. If we understand the Gospel of today, we can believe that good can come out of the suffering, pain and sorrow; can we look at these challenges as OPPORTUNITIES to glorify God.  These are opportunities for those who suffer to show the grace and peace that God brings.

How easy it is to say that we believe in God when everything is fine in life. Yet, when we suffer and face all kinds of unsettling problems, it is surely much more challenging.  And yet, these uncertain times are exactly when we need to offer a witness of what we truly believe.

Think about the times you have been inspired by examples of people who suffer and yet offer an incredible witness of faith. Throughout history the martyrs were saints whose way of handling death led countless others to embrace the faith. Their suffering truly glorified God.

I remember meeting Fr. Joseph, a priest who suffered unimaginable torture in an Albanian communist prison for 25 years, and yet when I met him he radiated joy and peace. He offered to me an example of incredible faith and a life without bitterness or anger. He even forgave those who tortured him. He turned his suffering into an incredible witness, into a victory of mercy and forgiveness and divine love.

I remember becoming dear friends with Luljeta, a paraplegic who had been paralyzed from her neck down from a young age. This tragedy of life, however, did not defeat her. Instead, she used her handicap as an opportunity to speak on behalf of other disabled persons, lifting up their plight in her society. Her witness seemed much greater than a healthy person, because many thought she should be bitter and angry at God.  Instead, she praised God for all things.

St. James writes, “Count it all joy when you meet various difficulties, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

St. Paul explains,“We rejoice in our suffering, because suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” (Rom 5:3-5). 

A mature Christian is someone who can take even the worse experiences of life and turn them into experiences to grow, to become better people, to show others what strength God gives them.  Do you know what an eagle does during a time of storm?  If an eagle is in a position where he cannot find shelter, and a storm is approaching, the eagle will face the storm and set its wings in such a way that the wind of the storm will swiftly lift the eagle high above the storm.  The eagle isn’t defeated by the storm, instead he uses the fury of the storm to take him to a higher level of safety.  We Christians must learn to do the same.

We all will face various struggles and difficulties in our lives. Some will suffer more than others, just like in the present crises where all are not suffering the same. Christians, however, must look at each situation as an opportunity to show the world how God is still with us!  While others may be anxious and worried, can we radiate God’s peace? When others complain, can we rejoice and thank God for our circumstances?  While others feel insecure, can we use this opportunity to enter into the loving arms of our heavenly father and find eternal security?

Moments of suffering aren’t the time to complain and despair, but they are a time to glory God,  “to let the works of God be manifest in us.”

I read the story of a missionary family who lived in Pakistan.  While there, their six-month old child died. A wise Pakistani elder heard about their grief and came to comfort them.  “A tragedy like this is similar to being plunged into boiling water. If you are like an egg, you will become hard boiled, hard and unresponsive on the outside. If you are a potato, however, in the same water you will become soft and pliable. You must decide if this tragedy will make you hard and unresponsive, or soft and adaptable in the hands of God!”

Why do we suffer and face difficulties in life? Why are we enduring the coronavirus, with all its health dangers and the economic fallout? Jesus answers these questions in today’s Gospel story of the man born blind. “This happened that the works of God might be made manifest in him.” This pandemic happened so that we have an opportunity for God’s work to be revealed through us; so that people might give glory to His name through the witness we offer in the midst of all our struggles and suffering!”

Suffering is an unbelievable opportunity to glorify God!

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