The Mystery of Suffering
Hebrews 12:5-6
And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to children, My son, despise not you the chastening of the Lord…

This, after its sort, is a kind of philosophy, a phenomenon of human experience. Everything in nature, according to the measure of its power, is happier than man. Men have been studying how to create happiness that should be unbroken in this world. They have invented a great many things, found out a great many medicines, but happiness has eluded their search. A steady flow of happiness, a soul that knows how to keep time as that watch knows how to keep time, has never been born, and does not live. We flit between light and dark. blow, happiness is certainly, we may believe, the final end of creation. Whatsoever maketh a lie or causeth offence in the grand land of consummation will have been purged out, and happiness without alloy will yet be the end of every true life that by sorrow and suffering has been wrought out into the full possession of its birthright. The process or education of man in this world proceeds on the law of suffering — happiness the graduating point; suffering the academy, the seminary; and the best teachers are the teachers that inflict suffering on man. Clear down to the last vision they are highest that have been most suffering in the great school of this life. It is the law of education. Why it was made so, if you know, please instruct me. Why did God make things thus and so? Why did He make the law of suffering the law of education, rather than the law of happiness? This why pours into the gulf of ignorance. We don't know. We are ignorant in proportion as we go back to the beginnings of things. These are secrets that no science will penetrate; at any rate, not for ages yet; these lie hidden in the bosom of God. But Christ is the type of the moral kingdom of God. It was necessary to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through suffering, because He was leading the multitude, the whole world's population, towards elevation through suffering, and He entered Himself under that august law of the universe, suffering. It is a badge of discipleship — suffering is. Men do not come to the fulness of their relation to God except through it. Now, look at the scale of suffering. The first is physical pain, which is the lowest; it is cautionary. The remembrance of it prevents a man violating some natural law; that is, some law that has its seat in the physical structure of the man's own body. It teaches men patience; it teaches men to bear valiantly. Cheerfulness under physical suffering is a wonderful victory, repining is a defeat. If a man shirks down, if he sneaks into complaints and all forms of bewilderment, and dissipated faith, he is wretched indeed, and there is no moral end gained under such circumstances. Then, aside from the suffering which comes to us through our bodily organs, there is that suffering which comes to us through the law of evolution in ourselves. The law of conflict between the lower man and the higher man, or, as St. Paul phrases it, "between the flesh man and the spirit man." If, in unfolding ourselves from childhood to manhood, the process goes on by which we subdue the animal that is in us, and the passions that belong to it, by the ascendency of higher social, moral and intellectual inspirations, then suffering is more immediately and perceptibly a schoolmaster. Men are driven up higher and higher towards the citadel of God, by the sufferings which take place in the conflict between the lower and the higher man. Living largely in the West in my early life, I had the opportunity of beholding phenomena that are good illustrations. When the great western rivers were suddenly swollen, and booming freshets came tearing down, flooding the country on either side, I have seen the river Ohio, that was not a quarter of a mile wide, ten miles wide in the flood. Nothing is more familiar to the settlers than the fact that the animals are all driven from the lower places, and frequently it is the case that they mount to some round hill and the water following surrounds it, and they are imprisoned on that hill. But they still go higher up, and higher up, and higher up, until they get a place that is a refuge. Suffering that teaches an animal to go up ought to teach a man to go up. Then suffering is still on another level, where we suffer by our social relations, where we suffer with and for each other, and here is the beginning of the grandeur of the kingdom of suffering. Vicarious suffering then, I may say at last, is the law of the universe. Christ entered into the world to partake of those very things that the race have passed through, "Tempted in all points like as we are," tried into all points as we are; and as it is the law of social connection that one shall suffer for another, Christ suffered for men under the same great grand law of vicarious suffering. That is a wretched child, that is a wretched man, who has no one to suffer for him. Then, higher than this, or rather more extended in its relation, is the suffering which men have in civic relations. Men are not individuals. Man is a collective animal; every man stands on his own stem, but he also stands on the trunk which holds up a million stems, and if anything afflicts the root it afflicts everything at the top. Although blossom is not identical with blossom, nor fruit with fruit, human life is made up of individualisms; but collected and made into one great organisation. And so men must suffer when society suffers. Then, next and yet higher, men suffer on account of their moral relations that unite them to man and to God and to the universe. The progress of knowledge is through suffering. One man suffers, and leaves a glow of new truth behind him, which irradiates the whole of a generation. Thus far we can see and understand. But the world is the workshop of heaven. There we shall see the consummation of that which we see but feebly and understand but partially. Many there are on earth who see no outcome; they are underfoot, they are out of place; suffering seems not only to bring to them no relief and no inspiration, but it seems never to have declared its real nature to their surroundings or to their generations. Oh I there will be a land where these things will be known; there will be an interpretation to every pang and to every tear, and to every crushing sorrow; and as for those who suffer for a noble cause, who suffer for children, who suffer for those who have no parents, who suffer for the community, though they are accounted unworthy, and are east out by the community, though they be crushed out of life and hope, and go mourning all the days of their lives, there is a reckoning — that is to say, there is to be an unfolding of the reasons of their suffering, and the results of it which do not by any means all appear upon this mortal sphere and in this limited life — it is to be made known. You do not know what is going on, you do not know all the meaning of your sorrow; God does. Do you suppose that the wool on the sheep's back knows what it is coming to when it is sheared? When it was scoured, and washed, and spun, and twisted of its life almost; when it went into the hateful bath of colour; when it was put into the shuttle, and was thrust back and forth, back and forth, in the darkness, and out came the royal robe, it did not know what it started for; yet that is what it comes to — kings wear it. The flax in the field sighs to be made into the garment of the saints. All right. Pluck it up; rot it, put it under the brick, thread it, weave it, bleach it, purify it; and the saints may wear it now. It came to honour and glory through much suffering. Suffering is God's guardian guiding angel to those that will; it takes them up through the gate of trouble and trial to that land of perfectness and of everlasting peace. And you do not know what your suffering means? Yet you may rejoice in the general fact that somehow or other it is going to make you glorious if you are only worthy of it. Allow me still one more figure; for some may take one figure easily and some another. When this organ was built the lead and the zinc did not know what the men were about when they were melting them, and making them into pipes, and when the work was distributed through the different shops among different hands. Here you have the sesquialtera and the mixture — hideous stops unless they are masked or hidden under a great weight of sound. If you tried them in the factory you would run out with your fingers in your ears, and cry, "Lord deliver me from that sort of music! " Then there are the flute stops, and the diapasons in their grand under tones. With all the different parts of the organ separately made, unconnected, nobody can tell what is coming except an experienced workman; but by-and-by, little by little, the frame is erected, the stops are all arranged and in connection with the wind-chest, and now that it is an organic whole every part plays into every other part. As a whole it is magnificent; but the separate steps were poor and weak and unsatisfactory. God makes stops on earth, but He builds the organ in heaven; and many a man will never know till he comes there what was the reason of that providence by which he was trained and fitted to be of that great band of music in the heavenly home. Thus far illustrated and explained the subject will give rise to some applications. And, first, no man should hunt after suffering any more than a man should hunt after sickness. Do not regard suffering as if it were in and of itself a means of grace. If it makes you better it will come of itself. Secondly, lower animal suffering is penalty for sin; but, going up the scale, it is not punishment, but the other way. Men suffer because they are so good; they are the vicarious sufferers for those who are not good, through sympathy, through pity, through endeavour to help them, through self-repression for the development of those that are round about. I have but one more thought, and that is final — not alone in this sermon, but final in creation. No imagination can conceive the wonder, the ecstasy, of the great hour of finding out. When we have borne our body, borne our allotted suffering and pain, borne our obscurity and our persecution, borne all the troubles that go to the making of manhood in this life, unrecognised, not rated according to our moral value, rated according to the law of selfishness in human society, when at last emancipated the pauper from the poorhouse, the debtor from the prison, the broken-down man in business, who has been living on the crusts of his former prosperity, mothers, nurses, servants, whose souls were greater than their places, when at last they shall come and stand in the light of the eternal heavens — oh, what a surprise, and oh, what a dismay, when the last tumble from their heights of imagined greatness, when the first shall be last, and the last first! But oh! when the suffering is all gone, and we come to find ourselves, and come to find that the work of life, racking, filing, sawing in various violent ways upon us, has made us perfect, and we stand in the light of the other life, to see the meaning of all that has taken place in our obscure life — oh, what an hour of joy and of consolation!

(H. W. Beecher.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:

WEB: and you have forgotten the exhortation which reasons with you as with children, "My son, don't take lightly the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by him;

The Ministry of Sorrow
Top of Page
Top of Page