We always talk about how God will help us overcome tough times, that He is greater than our difficulties and we can trust Him. Yet, I’d like to suggest two types of tough times and why it’s important to distinguish between them.
The two different types of tough times are challenges and suffering. Both are expressed as unpleasant situations which run contrary to our good vibes. Both are not easy to get past. Thus, we lump both in the same category. I’d suggest not to for the following reasons.
Challenges are tough times that build you up; sufferings are tough times that tear you down. Challenges strengthen you; sufferings weaken you. Challenges help unlock new abilities you are not familiar with otherwise; sufferings emphasize your focus in your shortcomings. Therefore, I conclude, challenges are given by God while sufferings are not.
That’s right. I firmly believe that not all bad things that happen to us are by God, and the distinction is this—does the tough time build us up and point us to Christ? That is the difference.
For example, learning difficult content in school is a challenge, but condemning yourself because of it is suffering (or curse, if you may). Getting sick is suffering but a response of faith in the power of God is a huge challenge. Squeezing on the train during peak hour is a challenge, but starting a fuss over it in the cabin is a curse.
A quick disclaimer is that what is a challenge to one may be suffering for another, depending on the response, as shown above. Also, we in our flesh can turn challenges into suffering because we make ourselves the focus of the problem. The converse holds too, that God can always turn our suffering into challenges, turning around what was meant for evil for what was meant for good.
Why is this important? The way we view tough times reflect the way we view God. Does God throw suffering our way? He’s a sadist and not that good. God allows suffering created by external forces so that He can use them to turn it around. Our God is good. If He throws anything difficult, it’s there to build us up, not tear us down!
Ultimately, let’s respond to difficult times as opportunities to be built up by God, and when suffering does come, let’s be real and complain about it first before speaking by faith God’s faithfulness to lead us out of it stronger than before. Remember—does the tough times point us to ourselves or to Christ? And if it is the former, let us by faith declare the latter.
—Joel Kindiak, 5 Dec 2016, 0729H