Benefits of sufferings
“and he said, "I called out of my distress to the LORD, And He answered me I cried for help
from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice” (Jonah 2:2).
How do we respond to the hardships we have in our lives? Henry Nowen suggests to response in four ways in his book, "Turn My Mourning into Dancing." There are 4 steps to dance with God:
- The first step is to grieve the pain and suffering we go through.
We have to cry when we have to cry. We must weep in front of the cross. And when we go through pain and suffering, we must go to our Heavenly Father and tell him what we are going through. But I think many of us don’t want to acknowledge our pain and suffering, but rather try to deny, ignore, or suppress them in our hearts deeply. If we do, then our sufferings will not benefit us. Rather, as in the case of the Israelites in the Old Testament, there will be a greater likelihood of committing sin to God by grumbling and complaining.
- The second step is to face the causes of pain and pain.
We must look straight at the hidden loss of injustice, shame and guilt that paralyze us. What causes pain and suffering? We must know what the cause is so that we can look straight to our pain and suffering. Many times we seem to be unaware of the cause of our suffering and pain. So we cannot face the causes of pain and sorrow, and even though we know the cause, our human instincts are familiar with avoiding the cause rather than directly look straight at them. We cannot enjoy the grace given by God through pain and suffering until we face the cause of the pain and suffering that we are experiencing.
- The third step is to go through pain and suffering, loss and wound and pass through it.
We should never pour too much energy into denying our pain and suffering. Rather, we must enter into the suffering, pain, loss, and wounds as we acknowledge them. We should not evade anymore. We must enter the tunnel of pain and suffering. Though it may be dark and frightening, we still have to enter that tunnel. Without entering the tunnel of pain and suffering, there is no benefit of the suffering.
- The last fourth step is to meet Heavenly Father in pain, suffering, loss and wound.
We must enter into the tunnel of suffering, pain, loss and wound and feel the pain, suffering, loss and wound of Jesus. Then, there is healing in our pain and wounds. Furthermore, we can be used as a tool of the Lord as a wounded healer.
We can summarize the sufferings of Jonah in four parts:
- The suffering of Jonah was the stomach of the great fish.
Look at Jonah 2:1 – “Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the stomach of the fish.” Jonah's first suffering was "the depth of Sheol" (v. 2). Like a darkened cave, Jonah, who was in the stomach of the great fish deep in the sea, was struck by the painful situation that looked around the north, south, west, and there seemed to be no solution. He was imprisoned like the Israelites who had been imprisoned in front of the Red Sea at the time of the Exodus (though this was King Pharaoh's thoughts and not the thoughts of the Israelites). Everything Jonah believed in this world was cut off. When we are in hopeless desperate situation like Jonah, we must look to the Lord who is our true Hope. This is the first benefit of suffering.
- The suffering of Jonah was the Lord's wave.
Look at Jonah 2:3 – “For You had cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, And the current engulfed me All Your breakers and billows passed over me.” Here the word “breakers” refers to God’s given waves that were breaking Jonah (Park Yun-sun). Not only God was breaking the ship that Jonah was aboard, but also Jonah's heart as well. God was breaking the harden heart of Jonah, who forgot the Lord's mission and disobeyed God's command and running away, so that he might soften Jonah’s heart in order for him to obey God’s command. This is the second benefit of suffering.
- The suffering of Jonah was the feeling that Jonah was expelled from God’s sight.
Look at Jonah 2:4 – “So I said, 'I have been expelled from Your sight ….” Jonah had this feeling because he was running away from God (1:3). In other words, Jonah was trying to flee from God’s presence so he felt that God had left Him and was far away from him. In a word, Jonah felt that God forsaken him. So are we. When do we feel that we have been forsaken by God? It is when we disobey God's commands like Jonah and flee far away from God's presence we can feel that God has forsaken us. Especially when we are in trouble, no matter how we pray to God, we receive no answer of our prayer from God. Then we can feel that God has hid his face from us and God has forsaken us. That was how the psalmist felt. That was why he cried out like this in Psalms 22:1 – “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning.” We can have a feeling that God has forsaken us when there is no answer of prayer from God and no help in spite of groaning and crying. This feeling of being forsaken by God must have been greater pain than physically suffering by God’s wave and being in the stomach of the great fish. It is the most painful feeling that we have been forsaken by God than any discipline, as if we were stuck in a dark room when we were disciplined by our father, and felt that we were abandoned by our beloved father rather than discipline by our father's stick. But in this suffering, the blessing that God gives us is that we may hear the cry of Jesus “’Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’-- which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” of the crucified Jesus (Mk. 15:34). When we hear this voice of Jesus Christ on the cross, we are convinced and assured that we are not forsaken by God forever because of Jesus, the only begotten Son of God was forsaken by his own Father God for us. This is the third benefit of suffering.
- The suffering of Jonah was that he was fainting away.
Look at Jonah 2:7 – “"While I was fainting away, ….” The word 'faint' here means 'to decline'. This word tells that Jonah was in extreme discord. The situation of Jonah's suffering could not escape (or be saved) by the power of man in his total incompetence, and it was an extreme despair that such a situation was three days old. In the desperation of experiencing total helplessness and total incompetence, the grace that God gives us is to look to Him who is the hope of salvation. And by looking at the Lord of salvation, God enables us to confess from our hearts and lips that "Salvation is from the Lord" (v. 9). This is the fourth and great benefit of suffering.
We must enjoy the grace of God through suffering in our lives. In particular, like Jonah, when we are running away from God by disobeying God's command, we must enjoy the benefits of God's suffering while dancing with God through the great winds of suffering that God gives us. Hence, we also pray that we may confess like the psalmist: “It is good for me that I was afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes” (Ps. 119:71).
Learning to dance with God and match His steps,
(While enjoying the benefits of sufferings)