A physical therapist came to visit my dad right after his knee surgery. While the stitches were fresh, he strapped his knee into a slow moving machine which bent the knee and then let it straighten out again. The PT guy would later take my dad through exercises and sometimes he would physically take the knee and bend it pretty far. I’m not sure, but I think this didn’t feel too good. As far as my dad was concerned it felt like the knee was being bent beyond it’s ability to bend.
The PT was forcing the joint beyond it’s limits. Trials and difficulties in our lives often seem beyond our ability to endure. We like to ask ‘why God are you doing this to us?’ I don’t know all the reasons trials come, but I do know one. God allows what He could prevent in our lives for the purpose of extending our spiritual range of motion. He sees better than we do how far we can go. He stretches us in ways that feel very uncomfortable at the time so that He can come and display the fullness of His life in us. Having enemies is painful and uncomfortable, but Jesus can love an enemy and display this in you. For those who follow Christ there is no avoiding suffering, but at least we can know it is the suffering of spiritual therapy. It is the suffering which produces the full range of Christ’s life in us.
And a hint for those who want to dismiss the existence of God because of the existence of suffering: eliminating God doesn’t eliminate suffering, it only eliminates the possibility that our suffering means anything at all. No one has ever explained completely why we suffer. Christianity doesn’t provide that answer. But in the Christian story of the world we have a God who chooses to participate fully in our experience, including suffering. The God who suffers is a unique aspect of Christianity. It doesn’t answer our questions, but it does tell us one important fact: The Christian God cares about suffering.