Over the next few weeks, I will be writing a series of articles on the subject of suffering. I hope to bring encouragement through these writings. Every person I know is suffering in some form or fashion, and I want to speak to God’s perspective, purpose, and provision in the midst of life’s hardships. I will, of course, use the Bible, but I also plan to draw on the experiences and perspectives of others who have suffered well for the glory of God. I pray God ministers to every person who reads these words.
I recently came across a story about a woman named Helen Roseveare. Helen served as a medical missionary to the Congo from 1953 to 1973. In 1964 she was taken prisoner by rebel forces and remained a prisoner for five months, during which she was beaten and raped. Her life of service was portrayed in the 1989 film, Mama Luka Comes Home.
As I read Helen’s story, I was captivated and moved to tears, not primarily by the severity of her suffering, but by her perspective in the midst of such severe suffering. Helen says that the night she was taken captive, she was “beaten, flung on the ground, kicked, teeth broken, mouth and nose gashed, ribs bruised, and held at gun point.” She said that she knew if the rebel guard did not pull the trigger, all that awaited her was more and more severe suffering. She said, “It was a dark night and I felt utterly alone. For a brief moment, I felt God had failed me.”
Helen went on to say that in her dark loneliness, God met her there. She quickly remembered her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and the suffering He unjustly received. She said she realized very deeply that “His love for me cost Him His life. He gave Himself in the most significant of all ways, and His sacrifice was the expression of His great love.”
She said, “Suddenly the ‘Why?’ dropped from me, and an unbelievable peace flowed in, even in the midst of the wickedness taking place.” She said that God came to her and spoke a new word into her heart, and it was the word “privilege.” She said, “He offered me the inestimable privilege of sharing with Him in the fellowship of His sufferings. And it was a privilege.” She went on to say, “For that night, cost became swallowed up in privilege.”
As I read these words, I wept. Only God could be so loving and gracious to give someone such perspective and such strength to endure such suffering. Helen powerfully stated, “God wanted my body, in which to live, and through which to love those very rebel soldiers in the height of their wickedness.” She continued speaking of the incredible privilege of showing her accusers the love of God, just as Christ had shown His. After all, it was Jesus who declared from the Cross, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
As angry as we get thinking of those rebel soldiers brutally attacking this sweet woman, we must understand that this is a real picture of what all of humanity has done to Jesus. We are the soldiers and we are the ones who nailed Jesus to the Cross. We are the ones who shouted, “Crucify Him!” The Bible teaches that every human being has sinned and it was our sin that caused Jesus to have to go to the Cross. Yes, there was a cost for Jesus, but I’m convinced He saw His suffering as privilege, because He knew that by His stripes and wounds, people would find forgiveness and salvation. Helen understood that Christ had died in her place, and that her sin had put Jesus on the Cross, therefore she was glad to show forgiveness to others, the way Christ had shown forgiveness to her.
Helen knew, as all Christians should, that her life was not her own. She had been bought at the highest of all prices, with the precious blood of Jesus Christ. She knew that her suffering, while severe on earth, would not even come close to comparing to the glory that awaited her in heaven. As theologian D.A. Carson says, “The more Christians live in the consciousness of God’s presence on earth, the easier it is to anticipate the indescribable delight that will be experienced in God’s presence in heaven!” My friends, it was this reality that caused Helen to set her sights on her Lord, allowing her to see her suffering not as cost, but as privilege. May all believers live with that perspective.