Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but–I hope–into a better shape.
Estella to Pip, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, chap. 59
But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I shall come out like gold.
Job to Eliphaz, Job 23:10
Estella, “bent and broken” by an abusive marriage, is transformed into something “better.” Now she hopes for the love she once rebuffed and Pip sees her as part of his own redemption. Their suffering prepared them for each other. [Interestingly, the first ending to Great Expectations is not so happy.]
Job began his response to Eliphaz with a declaration that “Today also my complaint is bitter” and God’s “hand is heavy despite my groaning” (Job 23:1). But he knows his suffering is a test of some sort–a bitter one, but one which he will endure though he also protests it.
Estella and Pip can stand on the other side of suffering and value it though they did not enjoy it. Job can sit in the midst of his suffering and recognize it as a refining process though painful and seemingly unjust.
But it takes time to get there, if we ever do. Even Job, in his first response to Eliphaz, protested that “his days have no meaning” in the light of God’s testing (Job 7:16, 18). He boldly declared that he would “speak in the anguish of [his] spirit” and “complain in the bitterness of [his] soul” (Job 7:11).
Yet, somewhere in the process, Job saw something more in his experience than mere injustice. He seems to have always thought it was unfair (cf. Job 27:2) but he did come to see that there was more involved than just that. It had a purpose. Whatever meaning he saw, however, did not deter him from protesting (cf. Job 30).
But all sufferers do not come to terms with some kind of “meaning” in their suffering and neither does their suffering always end up “rosy.” Sometimes sufferers die in the darkness unaware that their suffering has any meaning whatsover….if, in fact, it does.
Does Sheila’s death have meaning? Does Joshua’s? I think they do, but I am at a loss to tell exactly what it is. Did their losses test and refine me? Surely they did. Did I learn something through the fire? Yes, of course. Am I better for having been “bent and broken”? Yes, today I am.
Was it worth it? Honestly, No! It is difficult to value my “betterment” (even transformation!) as more important than their lives. Here is where my protest arises–my complaint that is sometimes bitter and sometimes angry.
But I recognize that I do not see the whole picture. I don’t know all that God is doing; I could not begin to imagine his mysterious and hidden ways. All I can do is sit where I sit at the bottom of the bowl, experience my little world, feel my feelings and trust that God knows what he is doing….trust that there is meaning in my suffering….that somehow, someway it is–in God’s grand wisdom–worth it.
Trust. That is the key word. Trust enables acceptance and dispels fear…but it is a process and it takes time, sometimes lots of time. God is patient. I am his beloved. Let us be patient with each other.