Even in Sufferings, “Great is Thy Faithfulness”
My Friend Rev. Enechukwu Christian Odira had a thanksgiving Mass today in appreciation to God for successful nasal and brain tumour surgery and healing that God granted to him. In the course of Thanksgiving, he recounted the many ordeals of life he has been through. From the time he suffered a fracture in the leg, which kept him in bed for over seven months, to the brain tumour he just survived. He sees the hand of God working immensely in his life and God using people of good will to demonstrate his love for him.
He summarized his testimony with Thomas Chisholm’s 18th-century hymn, “Great is thy faithfulness”. The chorus of that hymn reads:
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!
Indeed, my friend Rev. Odira witnessed the mercy of God, who did not fail to provide all he needed in the time of turbulence. His testimony becomes food for thought for all Christians on the reality of Christian suffering. I considered it pertinent to reflect on this since we live in an age where some pulpits tell us that sufferings are not our portion and we must use Holy Ghost fire to return them to the sender.
Suffering in Christendom cannot be removed or wished away. The author of Acts of Apostles reminds us that “through many tribulations, we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). As we wait for the glorious coming Jesus, and the salvation of our souls, we are necessitated to face sufferings and pains. These sufferings can be in our health, finances or even emotional. No matter what they are, they are not in vain. They have a divine purpose just as the scripture tells us.
Five Principles of Christian Suffering
Christian suffering is multidimensional
The scripture recognizes that our suffering is diverse. Yours may not be mine, just as Rev. Odira’s own is unique to him too. Apostle Paul tells us that:
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed”.
No matter how it comes – mental, emotional or spiritual, the fact is that it will come (it may have come or we may be in it at moment) and we cannot wish it away.
Christian suffering is a battleground.
There is a struggle going on for our soul each time we are facing a predicament. Many Christians do not recognize this. As such, they miss the opportunity of getting the triumph that follows the battle. When Job faced that situation, he recognized that there are two ways of responding to our suffering. One is to curse God and the other is to praise God (Job 2:9-10). Job, after the long battle in his mind, made the option to praise God in the midst of his terrible sufferings. The triumph? He was glorified, all he lost, came back in plenty folds, and of course other spiritual benefits.
Christians should be conscious of this battle. It has eaten up many who are ignorant of the fight. It has devoured many who choose to question God and go all the way out to be their own God. When people tell you, “heaven helps those who help themselves”, pray and pray again that you may not go before God.
Christian suffering equips us for ministry.
As Rev. Odira rightly pointed out in his testimony during the Thanksgiving Mass, “The mercy of God helped me pass through all these health challenges so I can help those who are in a similar situation”. Indeed his thought falls in line with that of St. Paul who writes that:
“God helps us in all our afflictions, that we might help those who are in any affliction, using the same help with which we ourselves have received from God.”
Passing through suffering and coming out in thanksgiving is a call to render help to others who are facing a similar situation. The tenderness, care, mercy which God has shown you despite your unworthiness, is what you have to show to others. You don’t come out of the “University of Tears” with cruelty and wickedness. The suffering is to break you that you might share your brokenness to others and God is glorified.
Christian suffering unites the community
The Church is not an association of sad and lonely people who bury their heads in the ground in search of heaven. The church is a community – community of the people of God. As a community, members of the Church are one family who share in the joys and pains of one another. Paul rightly advised us that we should
“Carry one another’s burden and so fulfil the law of Christ”.
This is important because we should help one another as members of Christ’s body – the Church. When a faithful injury, the Church applies the first aid. In times of hunger and peril, the Church comforts. Rev. Odira acknowledged the help of the community of people of God during his moment of suffering. We all need to offer one another that type of help in times of pain.
Christian suffering prepares us for His glory
One hard truth about Christian affliction is that it equips us for δόξα (glory). In his second letter to the Corinthians Paul writes:
“This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
Well, as sad as this may seem, this is our reality. God allows us to pass through sufferings that we might share in his eternal glory. Remember John the Baptist, the firebrand prophet? He was beheaded on the request of a little girl and her mother after an immoral dance. How does that sound that the cousin of Jesus and his forerunner was butchered in this manner? The breviary hymn of Common of Martyrs captures this last principle:
The martyrs living now with Christ
In suffering ere tried,
Their anguish overcome by love,
When on his cross they died.
Jesus made a remark when he got the notice of John’s death: Of all men born of a woman, no one is greater than John…” if I may put it that way, “greater suffering means greater glory”.
In sum, when a Christian understands these principles, he/she cannot but join Rev. Odira to sing “Great is thy faithfulness”, when faced with predicaments. Suffering is not a time for self-pity, of questioning God, of running from one prayer house to another, seeking for visions and applying all sorts of anointing oil. It is time to praise. Praise him even in jail like Peter, Paul and Silas. Even in like Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego or in Lion’s den like Daniel.
Always remember that “Great is His Faithfulness”
You can be inspired my reading, Turn my water into wine, O Lord“.
 2 Corinthians 4:8–9.
 2 Corinthians 1:4
 Galatians 6:2
 2 Corinthians 4:17–18
 Breviary Hymn 50