“Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).
THERE IS NO QUESTION WHETHER SUFFERING WILL CHANGE US OR NOT; THE ONLY QUESTION IS HOW IT WILL CHANGE US. What the change will be depends on our response — and in the final analysis, there are only three basic ways that people respond to suffering.
Passivity. Some people see themselves as little more than the passive victims of whatever happens to them. Unwilling to acknowledge any responsibility for their own actions or any freedom to choose their response, these individuals are at the mercy of their surroundings and their circumstances. They don’t really live their lives; their lives are “being lived” for them by outside forces.
Bitterness. Unfortunately, the passive mentality of the victim often degenerates into something even worse: a resentment that life should be so unkind and so unfair. In such cases, pain and suffering come to be the source of bitterness and anger. The fortunate few who are happy are resented, and God Himself may even be complained against for His cruel mismanagement of the universe.
Transformation. This response is radically different from either passivity or bitterness. It is the response which says, “I will do the best I can to do whatever is right, and I will respond to suffering with the dignity of a person made in God’s image.” When our chosen response is to trust God and obey Him, pain changes us for the better. Even while “perishing,” we are “renewed day by day.”
When we look at the kind of people we are now as opposed to the kind of people we used to be, we all see a difference, a contrast between “before” and “after.” We’ve either grown upward or downward. And the difference between those who’ve grown upward and those who’ve grown downward is not that some have suffered and others have not. In one way or another, all have suffered. But those who have grown toward God are those who, when faced with suffering, have chosen the upward path rather than the downward. Transformation to greater glory is always a choice.
“Pain and suffering produce a fork in the road. It is not possible to remain unchanged. To let others or circumstances dictate your future is to have chosen. To allow pain to corrode your spirit is to have chosen. And to be transformed into the image of Christ by these difficult and trying circumstances is to have chosen” (Tim Hansel).