The lives of most notable Christians share only one thing in common in addition, of course, to an unwavering faith in Jesus Christ – suffering and tragedy. Through episodes of immense suffering and unbearable tragedies, faithful Christians became more fruitful and effective in their knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Their eyes were misted by involuntary tears of pain and sorrow. Yet, they clearly saw God’s relentless love. Their aching hearts lifted up a song of worship and adoration. And yet, the burden of rejection kept weighing them down.
Today, you and I find encouragement from their stories because of what they learned in their pain.
Not everyone who goes through suffering and tragedy comes out purified like iron ore. Some people come out of the furnace of life charred and deformed like a plastic bag or Mopane tree bark. This is the sad reality of life.
You probably know an innocent girl who is now a prostitute because of poverty. After losing her parents she hit the streets to support her starving brothers. Another girl is now a serial fornicator. All because of a stupid uncle who raped her when she was only seven.
If you’re not careful, suffering and tragedy may force you into the vengeful grasp of sin. But it’s possible to grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ through suffering. The question you should start asking is, “How can I know God better when I’m faced with great suffering and tragedy?”
A Lesson on Suffering and Tragedy from Zürich and the Reformation
You probably agree that Zürich is no doubt the heart of the Reformation. Martin Luther planted the seeds of the Reformation in German. And in Switzerland, Ulrich Zwingli brought liturgical transformation in the church.
Both men suffered for holding the Word of God in high regard. It’s quite sad to know that Zwingli’s life tragically ended because of this gospel.
Last year in December, I went to Zürich because of God’s grace. However, I missed my flight and thought my life was ending. But God raised up a loved one who selflessly paid $450 for me to be able to reschedule the flight.
Not only that, my connecting flight from Dubai to Zürich had a technical problem. I had a seminar presentation that same day at 4:15 pm. The flight to Zürich delayed by an hour and I left the airport at 2 pm. By the time I arrived at ETH Zürich, I only had one hour thirty minutes to take a shower, rehearse my 45-minutes long presentation and calm down.
To sum up my escapade, a perplexed Swiss lady said, “Edmond, you have bad luck.” I smiled. I smiled because she had no idea that out of 1,000 application letters I submitted this was the second job interview I have been invited. And I smiled because I knew suffering and tragedy can’t take my mind off the beauty of Christ Jesus.
How Suffering Can Help You Grow In Christ
As I climbed the tower at Grossmünster, I thought of Ulrich Zwingli. What was in his mind as he climbed up this tower 500 years ago? Did he think of the pain of climbing the steep incline or the pain of sticking to the Reformation?
1. Know that Christ is the Rock
Hit by the plague that saw one out of three people in Zürich dead, Zwingli wrote:
The illness increases, pain and fear seize my body. Come to me then, with Thy grace, O my only consolation!
When you reach rock bottom you will discover that Christ is the Rock at the bottom. In 2001, I lost my mother and reached my rock bottom. My brothers and I used to go trash can hunting in search of used soap, body lotion, and toothpaste. As I went through the trash cans in my neighborhood, Christ searched my heart and purified it.
2. Look at what the Lord has done
From a small town in Zimbabwe called Karoi to the center of Reformation, Zürich. And from a pathetic school where I learned lying on my tummy, Manyenyedzi Primary School, to the second best university in Europe and 9th best university in the world, ETH Zürich. Yes, I have faced great suffering and tragedy, but I don’t have bad luck (here is my life story).
I have Jesus Christ who has been watching over me faithfully and building me up in the process.
Sitting in the pew at Grossmünster, I had a moment to think of where the Lord took me. I remembered the pain of losing a loved one. And the tears of watching my brothers hungry, angry and dirty. Today, I can proclaim Martin Luther’s timeless words:
I didn’t learn my theology all at once. I had to ponder over it ever more deeply, and my spiritual trials were of help to me in this, for one does not learn anything without practice.
3. Suffering and tragedy panel beats our theology
Through resistance, rejection and false accusations, Luther and Zwingli resorted to knowing Christ. Suffering and tragedy have a tendency of shaking the core of our beliefs. If we’re setting our eyes on the Cross, our false beliefs are exposed like a cancerous growth. For that reason, Martin Luther noted at the Heidelberg Disputation in 2018:
He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.
4. Fear God, not people
Oftentimes, God answers our prayers through people and some human endeavors. As a result, it’s easy to focus on these things and ignore God. If you’re not careful, suffering and tragedy can leave you in idolatry. As I was walking around the Fraumünster, where Zwingli translated the New Testament I came across John a Lasco’s letter to Heinrich Bullinger:
And there’s no human wisdom, no endeavour to which I attach so much importance that I would rely on it without the Word. Indeed I know that I will not be judged one day by people, however clever and gifted they might be, but according to the pure and everlasting word of God, which was conveyed to us by our Lord Jesus Christ through his Apostles.
-John a Lasco’s
Why you can still count it all joy in the face of suffering and tragedy
Faced with rejection and suffering, my wife and I resorted to studying the word. We chose Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians. There was a temptation to think that we could obtain our eternal life through reading the Bible. But Jesus Christ once warned against such biblicism.
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me. John 5:39
Like Luther and Zwingli, we found Christ in the pain through studying his word. I still haven’t got the job yet. But one thing I know is through the joblessness I came to Switzerland. Importantly, I learned more about the goodness of Jesus Christ.