The Danger of Refusing to Suffer

This subtitle from a book I recently read admittedly caught my attention.  Is this a statement from someone who is living in a fantasy world? Refusing to suffer—do I have a choice?


 Terrible things happen in this world. I have a memory bank full of unexplainable tragedies. You likely have a long list as well. It’s the randomness of horrific events that leave us questioning.

Like the recent local drowning of 15-year-old camper Caleb Justice and 26-year-old camp counselor Brett McLean during an outing to White River Falls. Caleb was one of approximately 150 kids from several churches in the Portland and Vancouver areas attending “Experience the Valley Youth Camp.” It seems a simple misstep resulted in their plunging into the deep pool of water below. The turbulent water described as “extremely hydraulic…boils and churns…a lot of undercurrents” delayed recovery of the bodies.

The incredible 3+ hour memorial service for Caleb was July 20. It was a display of love and remembrance by many who were impacted by Caleb’s love for God and people. Some of Caleb’s extended family attend our church. When suffering hits close to home, it gets our attention…perhaps more than we want.

This same day news came of a 24-year-old medical student in a gas mask who hurled a gas canister and then opened fire in a movie theater in Aurora, CO, killing 12 people and injuring at least 57 others in “one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent U.S. history.”  The details continue pouring in.

Refusing to suffer? Who are we kidding here? Talk about suffering! The enormity of suffering in just these two recent incidents is incalculable. Don’t we all suffer, whether we want to or not?

Can I by simply “refusing to suffer” halt emotionally painful circumstances/events in my life or in the lives of others? Not.

Then how can I interpret this bold subtitle: The Danger of Refusing to Suffer?

Jesus is described as

…a man of suffering and familiar with pain (Isaiah 53:3; Mark 8:31; Luke 24:25-26).

Scripture certainly is clear on the fact that followers of Jesus can expect to suffer.

            For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him but also to suffer for him…(Philippians 1:29).

            We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us (Romans 5:3-5a). Similarly James 1:2-4.

Believers can know there is a purpose in the pain. But the pain still exists and it hurts!

So in what way do I “refuse to suffer?”

Gary Thomas answers this in Authentic Faith, “I must learn to accept some suffering as an inevitable part of living in a fallen world. These changes hurt.  They are not easy. Suffering and change go hand in hand…Our refusal to suffer can lead to addictions and even physical breakdowns. We usually engage in sin to meet some immediate demand or need. Merely stopping the sin does nothing to address the yearning that led to the sin in the first place, which is why we must pass through the desert….the point I’m making is that holiness may make your life more miserable in the short run, though far more joyful in the long run…”

Thus, “The Danger of Refusing to Suffer.”

Gerald Sittser, in his now classic book A Grace Disguised, talks about his response to the death of a daughter, his wife and mother in a tragic head-on collision by a drunk driver.

“My own catastrophic loss thus taught me the incredible power of choice—to enter the darkness and to feel sorrow as I did after the accident, even as I continued to work and to care for people, especially my children. I wanted to gain as much as I could from the loss without neglecting ordinary responsibilities. I wanted to integrate my pain into my life in order to ease some of its sting. I wanted to learn wisdom and to grow in character. I had had enough of destruction and I did not want to respond to the tragedy in a way that would exacerbate the evil I had already experienced. I knew that running from the darkness would only lead to greater darkness later on. I also knew that my soul had the capacity to grow—to absorb evil and good, to die and live again, to suffer abandonment and find God.  In choosing to face the night, I took my first steps toward the sunrise” (p. 43).

Sittser’s story is that of a human being who understood “The Danger of Refusing to Suffer.”

I do have a choice.

2 thoughts on “The Danger of Refusing to Suffer

  1. Thanks Dr. Hislop. Here’s another article on the topic I’ve found helpful as I work out a theology of suffering. It’s been a preaching topic the last couple of weeks.

    My son is a musician and last Sunday shared about a song “Orange Moon.” The metaphor is an orange moon tells us of a sun we can’t see. His suggestion was if it is our goal to glorify God in all things that times of suffering can be opportunities for us to do that. As Gary Thomas says its during our painful times when we get very self-focused and inward. But what if in those times we instead, like Jesus, reflect His glory through remaining focused on God and His glory rather than self perhaps finding profit for others in our painful circumstance. Jesus suffered but for others’ benefit and to glorify the Father (John 17:1,4).

    So the real danger may be not just the loss of personal benefit but the loss of opportunity to show others God’s glory in suffering. Then the orange moon looks properly huge on the horizon.

    Here’s a recent article from Gospel Coalition’s site.

    Theology Of Glory Vs.Theology Of The Cross – Tullian Tchividjian

  2. Helps to have some good insurance policies. Just saying. Because these things hurt so much more when you also face ruination because of an unexpected loss or tragedy. However, evangelical churches rarely instruct in fiscal realities—-possibly because of the pietistic, non-worldly strains of thought that color the official doctrines. So that leaves you on your own in realistically dealing with shocking events.

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