Suffering knocks the edges off us. Pain is horrible, but can like all evil be used by God for good ends (Genesis 50). Wisdom grows in the soil of suffering. Woe betide the one who calls themselves wise, but the false humility of assuming we have no wisdom to share does no one any good either.
We should desire wisdom. “Get wisdom!” Solomon tells us (Proverbs 4). We see that eating from wisdom’s tree (Genesis 3) was Adam’s mistake but also the destiny he was supposed to bear. We also see that one of the ways we learn wisdom is by suffering.
Let’s not get this backwards, suffering is not our friend. God does permit us to suffer, the Bible is sometimes happy to use much stronger verbs than ‘permit,’ and God will mature us by testing and by suffering.
Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him. Hebrews 5.8-9
If the sinless Christ became mature through suffering, how much more do we need to do so?
There were two trees in the garden, life and wisdom. Adam was given one to eat and the other to wait on. It’s a reasonable supposition that one day he would have eaten from it. Piecing together the hints we get around the Bible this seems to suggest that he would have had to ‘die’ much like he died to give birth to Eve (Genesis 2), and been anointed King of the earth.
These two trees—that correspond to bread and wine and the Old and New Testaments—are given to us to eat from too. It’s in Jesus suffering, first his Test at Gethsemane and then his death on the tree, that we are given the wine of wisdom to drink from by the Holy Spirit. We eat from wisdom’s tree, which required suffering to give to us. James Jordan in From Bread to Wine would argue it required us to be broken like bread. For most this happens slowly piece by piece through life, and some enter it much sooner through more dramatic circumstances.
We follow Jesus’ pattern, not in the extremity of his suffering perhaps, but in that our character is made in suffering. Or, more accurately it can be. As Nicholas Wolterstorff describes in his Lament for a Son, times of suffering can brew despair and bitterness, but also make character. Both options are open to us, “the valley of suffering is the vale of soul-making.”
It’s possible for us to fall headlong into bitterness in the midst of dark days. To drink deep the draught of despair found in the foul run-off at the valley’s base. To get lost in Mordor’s dark hills. I mustn’t deny it. It’s surprisingly common.
There is an alternative too though. There’s a test, if you like, hidden within it. Like the one Adam faced, and Jesus faced, and every character in the Bible did in one way or another, sometimes several times.