Many of us learn how to put smiles on our faces in public while feeling far differently on the inside.
Life can be hard.
And some of the deepest hurts are not always our own but come from our love for those who are hurting.
Pain and confusion will multiply many times in this life when you choose to care about others.
The pain, losses and setbacks of life can be excruciatingly confusing. And the confusion often intensifies when we try to understand how God relates to suffering.
It’s easy to think of God as the one who could solve our problems. After all, we know that He loves us and has the power to change anything. Why is it that God doesn’t seem to answer our prayers for relief and lift our burdens? Why does He let us suffer?
Review some basic truths and commitments
1. We cannot overlook our complicit participation in the back-story of human suffering. When we rejected the boundaries God placed in the good world He gave us, our sin against our Creator resulted in the judgment he forewarned about. This is the best explanation available to humanity regarding the source of suffering and death. I’ve never found a more plausible answer as to why humans experience suffering and death. Most efforts to explain these universal experiences simply describe them or treat them as something inevitable without any clear explanation. I need a more satisfying explanation and I find it in Scripture.
2. Yet I also need hope. If I am a sinner (which is not a very difficult admission for me to make) who suffers both the consequences of my sin and of the sins others commit against me, is there any hope for sinners like me? Must we “Just suffer” as the bumper sticker reads? It’s tempting sometimes to default into the skepticism of Ecclesiastes by shouting, “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” (1:2). But we know better. Why? Because God has revealed more to us about our story. God actually entered our story and suffered for us the consequences of our sin.
Reflect deeply on these truths:
- “For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross” (Colossians 1:19-20).
- “For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body” (Colossians 2:9).
- “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (II Corinthians 5:19,21).
- “But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing” (Galatians 3:13).
- “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
- “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son” (John 3:16-18).
- But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions … For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:4-5, 8-9).
- “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:4-5).
Until God makes all things new, in this life, we will continue to experience the consequences of our rejection of the rule of God. This world is a place of groaning, sighing and suffering. Thank God, however, that this is not our final world.
- “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it,in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently” (Romans 8:20-25).
- “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:16,38-39).
3. I long for God’s love and power to converge and rescue me from my misery and this is exactly what happened when God entered our world of suffering in the person of Christ and suffered for us. I am not sure why God provides such a great end-story for forgiven sinners like me. It is grace – all grace!
Comfort and Purpose in suffering
Beyond these important pieces to the puzzle of life, it also helps to recognize that God doesn’t ignore or waste our suffering. Consider one example from the life and teachings of the Apostle Paul,
- “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (II Corinthians 1:3-4).
- “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (II Corinthians 1:8-9).
- “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (II Corinthians 4:16-18).
- “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness'” (II Corinthians 12:7-9).
leaning into grace,