Braving long drives on African roads reminded me of an important theological fact the other day: Suffering isn’t a virtue. I could drone on and on about this using vague and abstract examples, but I want you to see this the way I saw it – through the eyes of sheep & goats.
The Bible says that on the day of Judgment, God will separate the sheep from the goats (Matt. 25:32). Let me assure you the separating factor between the two… is not intelligence. On our drive over the dusty roads going “down-country” to Bongolo, my parents challenged Bill to try and tell the difference between the two; both looked mangy. Both were wandering around unattended. And both had the maddeningly exasperating habit of casually loitering smack dab inthe middle of the road. Some even picked the dusty highway as their prime bedding location, fitfully dozing in the tropical sun, bothering to rouse themselves in reluctance only long enough to cast irritated glares in our direction before stumbling off to the side. Often enough, however, they never make it to their feet, and are plowed down by SUV’s in a hurry to nowhere… such is life on the dusty, lawless roads of Southern Gabon. Bottom line – whether sheep or goats, both seemed resigned to a life of pain… and so go to sleep in the street.
Ever heard the saying, “You’ve made your bed, now sleep in it?” Don’t make your bed in the line of fire, thinking that just because Jesus said “In this world you will have troubles,” you should find the nearest shoe and get stepped on. We don’t have to be martyrs and open our arms wide to suffering. We don’t have to stand in the middle of the highway of life with eyes closed in fatalistic expectation of the accident that is sure to come. Because suffering is not a virtue.
We are to count it all joy when we suffer, and the results may be a tremendous blessing to our life and those around us – but suffering itself is not something that brings joy to God – He hates sin and the suffering that has resulted from it. Worse yet is when we subject ourselves to suffering or self-denial because we think it will make God happy – that is legalism, thinking our works can gain something for us in the eyes of God. Suffering is not a virtue.Praying “Lead us not into temptation” is you asking God to keep you from hard times. And you have permission to do this – it is exactly what Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemene – “Lord, if it be your will, take this cup from me.” God gives us permission to request not to suffer. So go ahead, ask for a grace-filled, God blessed, comfortable day – but first… step onto the sidewalk.