We can all agree there’s no place in this world untouched by hardship and suffering. We want to believe that God is good and loving, that He sees everything and that He has the whole world in his hands. However, when evil things happen, those ideas are heavily challenged.
When I was faced once again with news of a difficult situation, my mind wandered back to when I lived for several years in the Philippines in my early twenties. When first arriving in Manila from western Canada, the differences were striking in almost every way—the heat and humidity, the throngs of people, the incessant traffic and noise, the new flavors… But what I was most shocked at was seeing real poverty for the first time. So many people I met lived with varying degrees of scarcity.
As a young missionary having to learn to do without many former conveniences, I was tempted to complain at first, but the cheerful example of the local folks encouraged me not to. For centuries, the Filipino population suffered wars and oppression at the hands of foreign interventions or local corrupt officials. They suffered for generations under the weight of poverty and broken promises, but their attitude toward life showed grit and depth that were unfamiliar to me at the time.
My wife and I later lived and worked in several other Asian countries, including affluent Japan. Our work of sharing the gospel led us to befriend both rich and poor, and at all levels of society, we found people who displayed qualities of extraordinary unselfishness and joy. We then better understood that the common denominator wasn’t economic poverty, but suffering. All had t heir own story of some loss that had awakened in them grace and generosity toward others.
This world has many illusions. Achievements and money are endlessly pursued, while failure is avoided and looked down upon. But life in God’s world is very different. Failure and suffering are some of the ways God uses to help us see with true perspective.
Jesus still speaks these words of promise: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.”1
- Matthew 5:3–8