The Fragrance of Suffering

Behind a Frowning Providence, He Hides a Smiling Face

“Ministers never write or preach so well, as when under the cross.” — George Whitfield

Waiting to Undergo Cancer Biospy — Image by Author

I don’t know why, but I’ve always gravitated toward those who’ve endured suffering—far and above those whose lives are generally considered perfect.

Whenever I’m in the presence of anyone who’s been forever altered by a life of suffering, I am inexplicably drawn to them. They are beautiful and they possess a depth to their souls that causes them to stand out in the midst of everyone around them—a depth that only profound suffering can produce. Even more precious to me among those who’ve suffered, are those who understand that their suffering wasn’t for nothing, but was for a greater purpose.

In William Cowper’s hymn, God Moves in a Mysterious Way, he penned this verse:

“Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace; behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.”

A fragrance of suffering permeates those who’ve experienced great pain, loss, and trials, and is far more attractive than that of those whose lives have been defined by happy, clappy superficiality (and this is especially true when it comes to those who occupy pulpits).

Whenever I meet someone who bears the scars of having lived through the tumultuous throes of great suffering, I am reminded of an excerpt from a sermon from years ago regarding the suffering of John Bunyan (author of The Pilgrim’s Progress). This message was primarily directed toward the shepherds of the church, however, it is just as beneficial for everyone else who has ears to hear.

Using the aforementioned excerpt from that message, I made the following thirteen-minute video. Although I can no longer endorse the pastor giving this message (he went off the rails a long time ago), the truth of what he says in this audio clip still stands, and all these years later—especially in light of my son’s recent cancer diagnosis—this message still moves me.


I completed this essay last month and since then it’s been sitting in my pending drafts waiting for the right time for me to publish it. However, during this time of waiting I found out some sobering news: one of the men that was the inspiration for this essay has just been diagnosed with cancer.

This man — already acquainted with grief — has previously endured a battle with cancer earlier in his life and is now facing yet another unbearable trial. My heart is so heavy for what he is having to endure again, but no matter what happens in the latest of his life-long trials, I am confident that great will be his reward.

Because he and I barely know each other, this man has no idea how much his life of suffering means to me, nor does he recognize how beautiful his fragrance of suffering truly is.

The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning, while the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure.” -Ecclesiastes 7:4

J.L. Pattison chronicles his son’s battle with cancer at The Kohen Chronicles, and he writes award winning books at

A mildly melancholic, increasingly misanthropic, contrarian who cherishes life, liberty, and lattes. He turns coffee and sweet tea into books at

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