One of the unfortunate symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis is the miscommunication that takes place between the peripheral nerves (say, the small nerves in your feet) and the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). It is common for a person with Multiple Sclerosis to feel as if worms are crawling on the skin, bolts are being driven through the joints, or, as in my case, like a blow torch is being held to the feet and legs. At nearly 4 years since my diagnosis, I still cannot help but dwell on the burning every day, the pain is too great to extinguish from the mind. As a result, my day is often measured as a “good” or “bad” day based on the intensity of the burning. The, what I like to call, “whining” does not change anything. It is still there, tormenting me every waking hour. I have spent countless hours and several dollars trying to resolve the problem. I have tried numerous medications and “home remedies” searching for relief with no avail. Unfortunately, I know that I am not unique. Many people have to deal with chronic pain, and all people suffer with some type of pain before the end of their lives. The old saying, “part of living is dying” is true, but it is equally true that “part of living is pain and suffering.” Is there any value to the pain and suffering that you experience? If you are currently suffering, it probably does not feel like it (Heb. 12:11). In my opinion, there is nothing more irritating than someone trying to share the value of my suffering in the midst of battle. However, as my feet remain aflame now for several days, I have had time to consider some of the value of my suffering. If you are not ready for these considerations, by all means, wait for a “good” day to consider the words that follow.
One for the great values of suffering is that it causes us to long for the after, more important life. Before dealing with this disease and “all was well,” paradise/heaven was often only in the peripheral of my mind. There was a longing present, but not with the same intensity. Months prior to my diagnosis I was in intense pain, and I remember lying on the couch wishing my life would be over. This wish was not in a suicidal way, but instead an intense desire to stop the depression of this mortal body in order to enter into a state of peace (Rev. 21:4). Of course, I was as Paul said, “in a strait” between a desire to depart and a desire to continue to fulfill my responsibilities to God and my family on this earth (Phil. 1:23-25). It was an eerie feeling for me, but a necessary feeling; a feeling that many, if not most, people will feel at least once during their lifetime. If life on earth was free of suffering, would anyone long for heaven? It seems unlikely. Intense suffering allowed me, perhaps for the first time, to be thankful for the brevity of life on earth (Jas. 4:14).
Suffering is also valuable because it causes us to take “spiritual inventory” in our lives. It would be very sad if suffering only caused us to want to die. Suffering should not cause us to want to die, it should cause us to want to die and live forever with Christ. Yet, the reader and believer of the Bible knows that God requires obedience in this life in order to receive the bliss of spiritual life (John 14:15; 2 John 1:9). Therefore, suffering causes spiritually minded persons to determine, to the best of their ability, whether or not they are in a right relationship with God. After being added to the Lord’s church (Rom. 10:9, 16; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38) God still requires one to remain committed to His commandments (John 14:15). When suffering persists or death knocks on the door, there is usually a renewed since of urgency to make sure that one’s life conforms to God’s commands. Sins that we may excuse ourselves of on a daily basis when healthy likely seem frivolous when we are challenged with the uncertainty of this life. This, like other trials, is a healthy benefit of suffering. It refines us, if we allow it, in preparation of the judgment day (Jas. 1:2-4).
Finally, suffering provides a valuable reminder of the severity of Hell. If suffering causes us to be thankful for the brevity of life on earth, it should also cause us to consider the longevity of suffering in Hell. Hell is described as “eternal fire” (Jude 1:7), “everlasting fire” (Matt. 18:8; 19:29, et. al), “unquenchable fire” (Luke 3:17), and “everlasting destruction” (2 Thess. 1:9). We often throw around the word “eternal” as a hyperbole to express our displeasure. We may say “it took an eternity at the DMV,” or “I was on the phone for an eternity with the phone company and the problem still isn’t resolved.” No, no, the time you spent at the DMV or on the phone with the cable company was nothing near an eternity; it was a couple of hours of one day. While loathing my bodily condition on earth, I know there will be an end. Whether by healing or death the suffering will stop. Hell is much different. The suffering experienced there, with the absence of God and all that is good, will never end. It is a place in which “the worm dieth not,” the “burn” is continuous (Luke 3:17, Fut. Act. Ind.), and no relief will be found (Luke 16:24). Only a fool (Matt. 5:22) would experience suffering on earth, which is limited in scope, and not prepare spiritually to ensure that Hell, a place where the fire continues to burn “without end” (“eternal means “without end” (BDAG), is not his abode.
Christians, let us prepare ourselves for “everlasting life.” Heaven, as a destination, is just as long as Hell. Yet heaven is described as “eternal life,” and a place absent of suffering. There is value in your suffering only if it causes you to draw closer to the God of heaven. Draw closer to God! Yet I Trust.