|AM BOWIE. GRANT Hill. Bo Jackson. Kerry Wood. What do these athletes have in common? Each had a promising career -- a Hall of Fame career, most likely -- cut short or crippled by injuries.|
Bowie's leg, Hill's ankles, Jackson's hip and Wood's arm are testaments to the fragility of a professional athlete's career (Hill and Wood are still "active," but only in the loosest sense of the term). They are testaments to the seemingly arbitrary nature of injuries. They are testaments to the fact that no matter how great an athlete you are, you're just as susceptible to injury and pain as the third-stringers.
Considering the stars are in the thick of the action more often, that makes sense. The more you risk, the more you accomplish. A fortunate few, like Cal Ripken, Jr. and Brett Favre, manage to avoid the big injuries for long periods of time, but those are the exceptions. By and large, those toiling on the front lines are going to experience suffering; and nobody is invincible.
That's a general principle in life, and considering how powerful a teacher sports can be, it's very curious why so many people are surprised when suffering visits them. In a fallen world fraught with danger, we should come to expect it. And if you're a Christian, you should certainly expect it.
It rains on the righteous and unrighteous, Jesus tells us (Matthew 5:45). Being a Christian does not, as some television evangelists try to convince us, entitle one to a lifetime of safety and security.
Being a child of God is not a guarantee of a pain-free, happy life (and as Switchfoot so wisely sings, "Happy is a yuppie word").
If you act right, good things may happen for you, but not all the time. Job was as righteous as they come, and he suffered more in one day than most of us will in a lifetime. The notion has lingered since that time that if you're suffering, it's because of some evil you've done. Well, Job's friends tried that argument, and it didn't fly with God.
People like Job's friends miss the point of suffering. No suffering is needless. It all points to our desperate need for God, who will comfort those who seek Him. Suffering toughens us and helps us appreciate what we have.
"Shall we accept good from God, and not accept trouble?" Job asks his wife (2:10).
Let me emphasize that I'm not speaking of only physical suffering.
Emotional, psychological and spiritual suffering can cause a person just as much grief. Those standing up for God can expect, at some point, to experience all kinds of suffering. The good news is, they can also expect God's blessing.
God does not work on a rewards or points system. If He did, we would be certain that the rest of life would as well, which means the most talented and hardest-working among us would reap the greatest rewards.
But that doesn't always happen, does it? It seems unfair -- but who are we, as fallible, finite humans, to decide what is and isn't fair? How arrogant that is.
I almost wish I suffered more, because I find myself complaining at the slightest discomfort. I've never even broken a bone.
I guess I do suffer spiritually, in that I wrestle with my sinfulness daily. That's a good kind of suffering, too, because it makes me stronger. Coaches like to say that pain is weakness leaving the body, and there's some truth to that. God uses suffering for at least two reasons: to get our attention, and to make us stronger in our faith.
Ironically, that's a comforting thought.
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a sports journalist in Tupelo, Mississippi.
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