What’s the Point of Suffering in Obscurity?

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The angels and demons are constantly watching to see if I treasure God.

When I initially heard this idea, almost 15 years ago, it changed me. Radically.

At first it was unsettling to think that I was constantly being watched. Yet it became strangely comforting when I realized I was not alone in my suffering. That there was a greater purpose to my being faithful than I could see.

Over the years, I had often wondered if my private suffering had much meaning. I understood that public suffering, such as the faithfulness of the martyrs, inspired believers and unbelievers to see the value of God. But unseen suffering, that no one else on earth was aware of, seemed pointless.

Or at least it seemed pointless to me.

If no one ever knew what I was going through, how could God use it? If it didn’t inspire others to love Jesus more, did it really matter? If no one was there to observe it, what was the point of a godly response?

And yet as I heard Pastor John Piper unpack the book of Job, I saw that my response to suffering mattered. Not just for me, but because a watching world, a world that I could neither see nor hear, was waiting to see how I would respond to trials.

The book of Job begins in the throne room of God. Satan is mocking God, claiming that Job treasures Him for what he has been given. Satan claims that if God takes away what Job has been leaning on, Job will curse God to His face. In essence he implies, “God, Job doesn’t really love you. He loves your blessings. He worships you not for who you are but for what you give him.”

This is a great assault on God’s value. And after the worst has happened to Job, Job’s wife falls into despair and tells Job to curse God and die. This appears to be a great victory for Satan.

At this point, Piper conjectures that tens of thousands of angels watched in dismay, wondering what Job would say as well. But when they heard Job declare, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” Piper imagines that 20,000 angelic arms went up, proclaiming, “Yes Job! God is more valuable than your health. Thank you for holding fast.”

God’s glory is on display for the angels and demons and the rest of the world when people demonstrate that their hearts are satisfied in Him alone rather than in His gifts. When we declare that God is more precious than our health, our happiness, even our very lives, we highlight His supreme worth to a watching world.

That message helped me through years of struggle.

I speak and write about suffering, and sometimes my words inadvertently make it sound wistful and romantic. Almost noble. Talking about crying myself to sleep sounds a lot more beautiful than feeling nauseous in a dark, lonely room, with an empty box of Kleenex, and a raging headache from sobbing.

There’s nothing even remotely appealing about raw pain. When no one sees or knows and no one seems to care anyway. When you wake up every morning with a cold numbness that permeates your soul and makes you feel completely dead inside. When every day seems harder than the day before, and you wonder how much longer you can go on. When life seems grueling and gritty and even gruesome and death seems like it would be a welcome relief.

And yet, in the midst of crushing circumstances, we know something else in going on. Something bigger than we can imagine. Something that puts our pain into a larger context.

My life isn’t just about me. It’s about God and His glory.

And because of that, my response matters. Even when it seems that no one on earth is watching. Because there are beings in the heavenlies ever watching.

Ephesians 3:10 says, “…through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”

So God’s intent is that through the church -you and me- His wisdom will be made known to the powers and principalities in the heavenly realms.  The angels and demons learn about God through watching us respond to affliction.

The spirit world is looking on when we hold our tongue though we’re tempted to speak unkindly. When we lie suffering in an empty room and no one even knows. When we want to curse God and die and yet choose to bless God and live.

Joni Eareckson Tada’s message at True Woman 2010 addressed this very topic. Joni, who is a quadriplegic, had been lying awake in bed at 2 AM, nauseous from chemo and wondering if it was all worth it. But suddenly she realized, “Something unseen and electrifying is abuzz in my dark room. The unseen world and all the heavenly hosts including powers and principalities are watching me. They are listening to me and as I respond, they are learning about God and His character through me.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been able to press on because I know my life is on display. We don’t suffer for nothing and we never suffer alone… My response to hardship is never isolated. It is not true that no one cares or notices. The stakes are high and God’s reputation is on the line. It’s all for God’s glory.

Joni went on to say, “When the spirit world sees God’s strong arms hold you in your weakness, the Father gets the glory. The spirit world watches us persevere under pressure and they think, ‘How great her God must be to inspire such loyalty through such suffering.’”

Joni’s talk reminded me afresh that my life is being lived before an untold number of ‘beings.’ Every day I have the opportunity to show the surpassing value of Christ to the unseen watching world.

I can glorify God when I am unfairly accused and choose to respond with grace. When I am worried about a loved one and choose not to fear. When I am wracked with physical or emotional pain and choose to praise God anyway.

These choices all matter. Because a heavenly host is watching. Not to judge or condemn us. But to see if our God is worth worshipping. If He is worth living for. And even more, if He is worth dying for.

So let us press on. Fight with joy. Be faithful.

Our lives are on display.

 

 

photo courtesy of Jonathan Davidar

  • October 30, 2014 - 10:00 pm

    Rundy - I certainly agree that angels and demons are watching, but better to start with an even more glorious truth–God is watching. I have no doubt that all the angels and demons were watching when Jesus was crucified, but the most amazing, wonderful, glorious thing was that God was watching and He was pleased in the sufferings of Christ. So also we are told, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have” (Philippians 1:29-30). And Paul applies that very same truth again. “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Col 1:24).

    We who have been grafted in are part of Christ’s body, and as his body when we suffer we “fill up” Christ’s suffering. (What a thing to meditate upon!) If we know how God was pleased with Jesus’ suffering on the cross, so also we know how He is pleased by our suffering for His name’s sake. Angels and demons watch, but I find so much more encouraging the truth that an infinite and awesome God is watching and He is pleased. What we live, what we suffer, is ultimately for the eyes and heart of God.ReplyCancel

    • October 31, 2014 - 11:58 am

      Vaneetha - It is a glorious truth that our God is watching all that we go through! Thank you for that reminder that all we do is ultimately for Him.ReplyCancel

  • October 31, 2014 - 2:51 pm

    Jeanne - This is so encouraging. I first heard this truth last week when I was listening to an old message given by Joni. Wow! How that changes things. I’ve wondered too how my suffering, when only a handful of people even know about it, can matter.

    Thank you for this!ReplyCancel

    • October 31, 2014 - 7:00 pm

      Vaneetha - So glad this has encouraged you, Jeanne. The truth that God and all of the angels and demons are watching me has helped me walk through many dark and lonely days.ReplyCancel

  • October 31, 2014 - 4:44 pm

    Georgia - Almost every time you post here, I am amazed at how timely your words and your message to those who read is for me… how it ministers to or answers the very struggles I am dealing with at the time. This post is no exception. 10.5 months out from the loss of our baby girl, I find that my story {or her story} has seemed to go silent. And though some days I struggle with the loss and grief every bit as much as I did almost a year ago, there are so few left who are tuned in to that suffering. That’s not a blame. It’s just reality. But I’ve often felt defeated in trying to be who God wants me to be in my suffering, with so few watching anymore. Not that I was being who I though others wanted me to be when they were watching. But I think bitterness or even feeling abandoned sometimes tries to win over enduring suffering the way God would want me to. To read this… about suffering… in a different light, it’s an encouragement and inspiration. It reminds me to stay the course of where God brought me originally in my loss. I’ve surely failed, but I can honestly say that I would have never realized that this is as good a reason to be faithful as is the reason that the world I can see is watching. Thank you for always writing what God puts on your heart, as it is so surely used.ReplyCancel

    • October 31, 2014 - 6:58 pm

      Vaneetha - Oh Georgia, I can imagine these last 10.5 months have been excruciating. Its hard when other’s move on- no longer ask about the pain that still feels so very raw. But God, and His angels, are rejoicing at your faithfulness.ReplyCancel

  • October 31, 2014 - 6:00 pm

    Lia - Your words touched a place in my spirit today. No one has ever been able to convey these emotions as accurately and truthfully as you did. Especially the paragraph that begins with
    “There’s nothing even remotely appealing about raw pain. When no one sees or knows and no one seems to care anyway. When you wake up every morning with a cold numbness that permeates your soul…”

    This is the place I am in and having to fight my way out of. Thank you for giving words to the feelings I couldn’t express and a new lense through which to view this place in my life.ReplyCancel

    • October 31, 2014 - 6:55 pm

      Vaneetha - You are welcome, Lia. I am so sorry you are in this hard place, but I’m praying you’ll sense His presence and rejoice knowing that your suffering is never wasted.ReplyCancel

  • November 1, 2014 - 12:04 am

    Gina Duke - Hi, Vaneetha!

    It was nice to meet you at Allume. I love the scripture you wrote about; it’s one of my favorites!!!

    Let’s stay in touch…

    Gina DukeReplyCancel

    • November 1, 2014 - 9:57 pm

      Vaneetha - It was great meeting you also. I love your prayer journal! I’d love to stay in touch. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • November 1, 2014 - 11:54 am

    How God Refreshed My Spirit | Clearing Out The Rubble - […] I reblogged one of the writings yesterday and a link to the other is from the blog “Dancing In The Rain”-What’s The Point of Suffering In Obscurity […]ReplyCancel

  • November 7, 2014 - 10:02 am

    Hannah - I hardly know how to express how “on-track” your words are to me and my family right now, Vaneetha! A friend shared your blog with me early this year and your post” Do I Value Sustaining Grace?” was very meaningful through a hard time I was going through. Then in April of this year, we learned my dad (57 yo) had brain cancer and it has been a really tough journey since then. Your blog continues to be such an inspiration to us, reminding us that many are facing deep pain and yet the Lord is truly the only one who can give us the proper perspective through it. I’ve posted links to your blog on our blog several times and others have told me what an encouragement you’ve been to them as well. May the Lord continue to fill you with more of Himself … more of His truth and His comfort, and may He FULFILL the desires of your heart. Thank you for sharing so honestly, again and again! You are a huge blessing!ReplyCancel

    • November 9, 2014 - 5:17 pm

      Vaneetha - Thank you, Hannah, for your encouragement. So grateful that the Lord is using this blog to encourage others. I’m so sorry about your father- I can imagine that this is a very difficult road. I cannot wait till heaven- when there is no more tears or crying or pain… But until then I am comforted that none of our suffering is in vain- and one day it will all shine in glory.ReplyCancel

  • January 17, 2015 - 11:45 am

    Aleea Hibbeln - My whole life I have felt that I was being watched. That I was in a movie and I had an audience. After reading your post, I can see that it isn’t just my imagination! Thank you so much for this lovely post.

    I just have one question. Don’t the angels already know how awesome God is? Why do they need us to teach them about God?

    At night in bed I sometimes say out loud how wonderful Jesus is because I feel the demons watching to devour me. As soon as I declare my love for Christ, I feel them back off. Wow, I’m not alone in this. That’s really nice to know Vaneetha!!ReplyCancel

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