Myths About Suffering:
Better Than Jesus

By Mary Stephens
March 2018

Hebrews 5:8-9 Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;

Suffering is a subject that holds a lot of fascination for mankind. Since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden one of the things that has defined the human condition on many levels has been suffering. Modern medical solutions have helped in many ways to reduce certain types of suffering, or to at least mask the affects so that we don't notice them so much. But, in the not-so-distant past people endured some dreadful things in the way of pain, illness, quarantine, torture, and other things. Death was often times much harder than it is now, and even yet it is often enough quite dreadful.

One peculiarity of this is that a certain element of self-righteousness arises in some Christians around the subject of suffering. The greater the suffering, the more impressed some are, and the more they think they (or some other sufferer) has benefitted spiritually. The reality is that this may or may not be true. Sometimes those who have thought they have grown into "spiritual giants" (not a Bible term) through suffering have really only become self-righteous and self-important.

I think that one reason for this is found in Romans 8:17-18: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

It seems like some people believe that the more they suffer, the more glory they will have with Christ. Although the text does not say this specifically, this has been assumed in some ways. This type of thinking, regardless of the texts used (See also Philippians 1:29), is one thing that has led some people to monasticism and various forms of self-abuse. The people who do those things in some instances believe that somehow as they inflict suffering upon themselves, or allow others to do so, they are suffering with Christ and earning later glory for themselves. In some cases they get the glory now as others admire them for choosing self-inflicted suffering.

Those with less violent tastes and who truly suffer from sickness or tribulations or persecution of various sorts may still have this attitude, but without so much of the self-inflicted aspect (although that can still enter into it at times).

One very serious problem that can occur is that of thinking that we have attained or can attain more patience in suffering than Jesus Christ Himself - that somehow, through and in suffering, we can behave in a more holy manner than the Son of God. I think most would probably say that is not what they are thinking, but the way it is discussed sometimes shows a different picture, whether they (or we) know it or not.

There are probably a lot of examples that I could use here, but for the present I will only touch on two. Perhaps we will address others later. Both of the examples I have in mind relate to the crucifixion and so they seem appropriate as we ponder the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as we  approach Resurrection Sunday right now (March 2018).

The first one is the idea that it is a sin to ask God, "Why?"

I have heard this, and at one time I believed it myself. The basic concept is that no matter what difficult situation or suffering one is going through, one must never question God in a "why" sort of way.

My brother, Mike, and I were going through some tough times in our lives when we were young adults. We were talking on the phone one evening having a pretty intense conversation about it when Mike told me that it was not a sin to ask God why because Jesus asked God why on the cross.

Matthew 27:46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

I think it kind of blew my mind. I had never thought of it that way, but it was true.

Mike went on to point out that it is the spirit in which we ask "why?" that matters. An angry, rebellious spirit would make it sin, but a humble, hurting spirit would not. Jesus cried with a loud voice. He was not complacent in His question. But, He was also not rebellious or sinful.

When we say that asking God "why?" during suffering is sin, in essence we are saying that we need to be better than Jesus Christ. We are also calling Jesus a sinner.

Do you see what I mean? By exalting patience in suffering unbiblically it can enter into what is really a blasphemous position.

More Perfect than Christ?

In the past the book Streams In the Desert  by Lottie Cowman (Mrs. Charles E. Cowman) has been recommended to me. I ran across something from that book awhile back and later I found a place online where it is being posted. Mrs. Cowman wrote and compiled this book during a time when she was watching her husband go through great suffering. But, I'm afraid that skewed her view of suffering, which is understandable from a human point of view. This particular excerpt titled "Perfection In Suffering" is very disturbing to me. Let's take a look.

"'The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me.' (Ps. 138:8).

"There is a Divine mystery in suffering, a strange and supernatural power in it, which has never been fathomed by the human reason."

To start with we already see the mystical aspect of suffering being set forth here. Suffering is certainly a mystery at times, but a strange supernatural power? What does that mean? There are people who have suffered greatly with no supernatural "power" being added to them or changing them for good.

To continue.

"There never has been known great saintliness of soul which did not pass through great suffering."

Stephen Hawking recently passed into his tragic eternity after spending a long life of suffering which never brought him any nearer to God, showed any supernatural power, or produced any saintliness of soul in him. Maybe I'm straining at a gnat, but I do think the author ought to have made it clear that mere human suffering apart from God is not what makes the difference. It is suffering under the care of a loving, merciful, and Almighty God that makes the difference.

"When the suffering soul reaches a calm sweet carelessness, when it can inwardly smile at its own suffering, and does not even ask God to deliver it from suffering, then it has wrought its blessed ministry; then patience has its perfect work; then the crucifixion begins to weave itself into a crown."

Here we can see the allusion of suffering being transformed into glory for the sufferer. The pride and self-righteousness begin to show at this point.

I have heard people who would joke at their sufferings. Sometimes it was obvious that they were trying to make light of it because that was their way of dealing with it and helping those around them to deal with it. Other times it was really uncomfortable because it seemed like it was more of a cover for bitterness of spirit.

One sweet lady I knew who had endured crippling rheumatoid arthritis all her life lived with a cheerful acceptance that was an inspiration to all who knew her. Still, I am sure that she sometimes prayed for deliverance from certain aspects of her suffering. To say that one would become so holy in suffering as to never ask for deliverance in any way is absurd. Even the most godly and righteous people still look with hopeful and eager eyes toward their heavenly home, and more so as they look for release from deep suffering. It grieves me that this unattainable standard for perfection in suffering was held up for the measure of so many Christians, especially since it is a standard to which Jesus Himself did not attain! We read no such thing as Him "smiling at [His] own suffering" in scripture!

Read on!

"It is in this state of the perfection of suffering that the Holy Spirit works many marvellous things in our souls." [sic]

Does the Holy Spirit do marvelous works in our souls through suffering? He can if we allow Him to.

"In such a condition, our whole being lies perfectly still under the hand of God; every faculty of the mind and will and heart are at last subdued; a quietness of eternity settles down into the whole being; the tongue grows still, and has but few words to say; it stops asking God questions; it stops crying, 'Why hast thou forsaken me?'"

Dear friends, as pious and spiritual and godly as this sounds, it is BLASPHEMY AGAINST THE PERSON OF JESUS CHRIST!" Yes, I am yelling - at least in spirit - because this is egregious* teaching! Those words were spoken by our Saviour on the cross as He was suffering for our sins. The implication that is given here is that these are bad words, selfish words, words that people who are "fully surrendered to God" (whatever that means - it isn't in the Bible) would never say! AND YET - the very Son of God spoke those words! There are no words strong enough to describe the vileness of this. It is beyond belief!

Yes, Mrs. Cowman said that we can attain a state of BEING MORE HOLY THAN THE SON OF GOD! Do Not miss that. Grab it with both hands and look at it in all its putridness. Because that is what happens when we begin to glorify patience in suffering beyond measure. That is what can happen when we exalt humans above what we ought to because they (or we) have suffered greatly!

Romans 12:3 For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

"The imagination stops building air castles, or running off on foolish lines; the reason is tame and gentle; the choices are annihilated; it has no choice in anything but the purpose of God. The affections are weaned from all creatures and all things; it is so dead that nothing can hurt it, nothing can offend it, nothing can hinder it, nothing can get in its way; for, let the circumstances be what they may, it seeks only for God and His will, and it feels assured that God is making everything in the universe, good or bad, past or present, work together for its good.

While this section holds some elements of truth as it stands alone without the previous load of bilge, there is still somewhat that I want to point out here.

The phrase "the choices are annihilated" is false. No matter how deep your suffering, no matter how yielded you are to the purpose of God, you will always have choices to make. You cannot reach such a state of spiritual perfection that you will cease to have choices to make. Every day we live, every hour, there are choices we must make - even in the depths of the deepest suffering it is a CHOICE to keep your mind staid on Him.

Isaiah 26:3 Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.

Being filled with the Holy Spirit is also not something that just happens to us, otherwise we would not be commanded to do so.

Ephesians 5:18 And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;

No, we can never reach a point where our choices are all annihilated. Suffering is only sanctified if the person suffering is living a sanctified life and that is a choice.

Furthermore, we are never called to wean our affections from all things. The affections of the flesh must be crucified with the flesh, Galatians 5:24 - And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. But we are to have affection toward the saints (2 Corinthians 7:15) and we are to "Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth." Colossians 3:2 To annihilate affections, then, is disobedience to the word of God.

"Oh, the blessedness of being absolutely conquered! of losing our own strength, and wisdom, and plans, and desires, and being where every atom of our nature is like placid Galilee under the omnipotent feet of our Jesus. –Soul Food"

As I mentioned above, being "surrendered" is not mentioned in the King James Bible. Nope, not even in a strictly military context. So what is blessed about being conquered?

This is a longish passage, but because of the importance here, I'm going to use it all.

Romans 8:35-39 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We should be MORE than conquerors THROUGH JESUS CHRIST. Yes, I know how hard it is to feel that when you're lying in a bed unable to get up and even take a shower or go to the bathroom by yourself, or when your mind is teetering on the edge insanity, or when someone you love has done something horrible that you never anticipated. I have been there. It's a hard place. But, being at peace and in complete acceptance of what God is doing with your life in times of great suffering, whatever they are, is not the same as being conquered by God. Jesus didn't come to conquer us, He came to make us more than conquerors through Him! We are not called to be empty and nothing, lying bleeding at His feet. We're called to be saints - not Roman Catholic monks and nuns beating and berating ourselves to increase our glory or reduce our sins, but saints that hold forth the word of life (Philippians 2:16) and walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit (Romans 8:1); saints that endure hardness as good SOLDIERS of Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 2:3).

To conclude this little devotional, the author put in a little more nonsense.

"The great thing is to suffer without being discouraged. –Fenelon

"'The heart that serves, and loves, and clings,

'Hears everywhere the rush of angel wings.'"

First of all, I think we have plenty of examples of Bible people being discouraged at various times, and they weren't rebuked by God for it. I am not convinced that it is even necessary to suffer without ever being discouraged because of the example of the Psalmists in particular. If David and Asaph and others had never been discouraged in suffering there are some important Psalms that never would have been written for our comfort. So, yes, God blessed their discouragement to us and used it for His glory.

Finally, are we supposed to be listening for the rush of angel wings? Actually, no. There is no indication in the Bible in general, and specifically in the New Testament that we are supposed to be paying attention and looking for the evidence of angels around us. Once in a long while it happens that we do become aware their presence, but we are never told to listen for the sound of angel wings as a token that we are pleasing God with our service, love, and clinging to Him. That is just plain nonsense and superstition. Hebrews 13:2 Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. We may entertain angels unawares  - but unawares is the key word there. We won't know it. (The preoccupation with angels in some quarters is a topic for another time.)

In Conclusion

Romans 5:3-5 And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.

First of all, we are supposed to glory in tribulations, Christian friend, not lie there like a placid puddle of sludge that has been conquered. Is that easy? Not in the body of this death!

Romans 7:24-25 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord...

Tribulation, or suffering, does work patience; but that is not the goal! Patience should lead to experience, and experience to HOPE! "And hope maketh not ashamed..." Why? "...because the love of God - THE LOVE OF GOD - is shed abroad in our hearts..." Yes, " the Holy Ghost..."

Do you see what happened in this "devotional"? We were told that through our suffering the Holy Spirit would allegedly give us such perfection that we would become better than Jesus Christ, the Holy Son of God! Then we were "blessed" to be conquered and to annihilate our own ability of choice. We were left flat and lifeless under Jesus' feet, listening, not to the voice of our Saviour, but for the rush of angel wings - a thing that doesn't exist for us scripturally speaking. Oh yes, we were to serve and love and cling.

But do you see what is missing?

Hope! Hope that maketh not ashamed! And, the love of God!

We are never pulled up from the depths of the sea by the strong hand of a mighty Saviour when we cry with Peter, "Lord save me."

And, of course, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself is blasphemed in His precious words upon the cross!

Dear ones for Christ's sake, when we read something that removes the hope and the love of God we ought to be immediately on our guard. It is Satan that wants us hopeless and focused upon ourselves and our own progress toward perfection, because he knows that in that case we will always fail. It is the adversary that wants us listening for angels' wings instead of rejoicing in the love of God shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Ghost. Why? Because he is an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14) who loves to deceive people as such.

And, there is probably little that pleases the devil more than blaspheming the Lord Jesus Christ, which is what it is when sinners saved by grace think they can be better than their Saviour.

Let's beware of this type of thinking wherever and however it crops up. I once thought myself that asking God "why?" was a sin!

 I daresay Mrs. Cowman, or whoever she was quoting, didn't intend to do these things, but it should serve as a warning to us. We can fall into the same mess if we are not attentive to what we are hearing and what we are thinking on the subject of suffering. It is a subject that touches our lives deeply, especially in the emotions, which is one reason that it is easy to get off into incorrect thinking about it. It has also been written and preached and sung about a great deal, and many wrong ideas have been put out there for us to consume. We need to guard against the temptation to make our own suffering or the suffering of others something greater than it can ever be.

No human suffering can ever be greater than that which Jesus Christ bore for us when He died in our place to save us from our sin and from hell and to satisfy the wrath of Almighty God. All human suffering is puny little stuff compared to His great suffering. This is why some people may believe they can bear their suffering better than Jesus did, because it seems to them that they are enduring theirs with so much more acceptance. But, they fail to grasp the enormity of His suffering compared to their own. Our enduring, no matter how great it seems humanly, is minute compared to what He endured. And, yet, He endured it all without sin. Nothing He did or said in all His terrible suffering was wrong or unworthy of His position as a member of the Godhead. He suffered in perfection because He suffered as God. He is our example and inspiration and comfort because He has suffered and endured without sin in a way that we never can.

Hebrews 4:15-16 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 12:1-3 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.


* egregious - outstandingly bad; shocking.

Background and graphics by Mary Stephens
Original vintage graphic: source unknown