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God Is With Us in Our Suffering
Christians do not suffer alone. Our God draws near to us in our pain and sorrow. He understands our suffering because Jesus Christ – God in human flesh – suffered.
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
In our time of need and suffering the best move is to draw near to God. In Christ, we can be sure that God is with us and close to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18). We shouldn’t doubt God’s goodness, justice and love when we witness or experience suffering. Instead, it should underscore God’s mercy and love for a broken humanity.
God sent His only begotten Son to enter and be involved in our mess, sorrow and pain.
HE UNDERSTANDS YOUR PAIN
“Jesus wept” (John 11:35) at the tomb of His friend Lazarus, which means that even when you are unable to express with words the anguish within, He knows the grief of losing a friend.
The night before He was arrested and crucified Jesus said to His disciples. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38). The Apostle (and physician) Luke describes the details of Jesus’ wrestling in the Garden of Gethsemane:, “And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” If you have ever experienced depression or overwhelming thoughts of dying, Jesus is right there with you.
Three types or reasons why you might undergo suffering in life:
1. Common suffering/Innocent suffering.
Universal to all and not because of your actions or words. Because of the initial rebellion and sin of Adam and Eve, sin and death entered God’s good creation. Everybody will suffer one way or another regardless of your religion, ethnicity or geographical location. For instance, anyone can suffer from a natural disaster, random acts of violence, an illness or death itself – no matter our faith or lack of it. All humans will suffer one way or another to varying degrees. In the face of such suffering we should always be ready to bring relief, support and comfort to those suffering.
2. Carnal suffering/Deserved suffering.
This is because of personal sin. Our sin brings suffering upon ourselves. The only way out of sin is trusting in Christ, confessing our sin and following his commands.
3. Christian suffering/Righteous suffering.
This is when your Christian faith and your stand for Biblical justice brings persecution. This type of suffering shows that we love God more than we love comfort or the praise of men. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.
GOOD NEWS FOR THE UNRIGHTEOUS
Apostle Peter reminds us that Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit (1 Peter 3:18). Put your trust in Jesus and turn from your sins. Trust Christ to bring you into God’s holy presence where there is fullness of joy; at his right hand are pleasures forevermore.
We have a Savior who has not only suffered alongside His creation, but also gone beyond the physical, emotional and mental suffering. Jesus Christ suffered the worst type of pain and anguish for you and I. He did not just experience the horrific physical, emotional and mental torment, but He was also forsaken on the Cross by His Father in Heaven (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34).
Jesus willingly laid down His life on the Cross taking on the sin of the world, being punished in our place. The penal substitution points to the self sacrifice of a merciful, loving and just God.
Jesus as the lamb of God took the wrath of God upon Himself so that we through faith in Him could be forgiven and reconciled to the Godhead. Jesus was not an innocent third party being punished for us by God, but he Himself said ”no one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18).
The late theologian John Stott once said, “I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross.” The Cross of Christ brings me comfort in my times of discomfort and pain.
Jesus was not a God who was immune to suffering. He is not looking on at our pain and suffering as an impassive observer far removed from the hurting world. We see this explicitly in the Cross of Christ. He is, in the words of the early Christian apologist Tertullian, “the crucified God.”
To those who love him, God says, “Fear not, for I am with you… I will strengthen you, I will help you” (Isaiah 41:10). God the Father does not abandon his children when trouble hits —he is a present help and refuge. We cannot see him, we cannot audibly hear his voice or literally feel him wrapping His arms around us, but he is here with us in our times of calamity and distress. We know that “the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16-18).
DON’T GO LOOKING FOR TROUBLE
I think I should clarify an important point here: I am not advocating that we seek out suffering. We don’t rank the value of suffering above doing good. If you read through Apostle Peter’s 1st letter you will see that his goal is to embolden and teach the church to pursue “doing good,” “loving others,” “being holy” (1 Peter 1:15, 1:22, 2:15, 3:6, 3:11, etc.). That’s what we are to go after as believers: goodness; love; holiness — not tribulation and misery. Trouble is part of life and it will come, but it’s not the goal or what we aim for. We seek to love God and others no matter the cost and in spite of the discomfort.
DON’T GIVE UP DURING TIMES OF SUFFERING
What I do to remain joyful and endure difficult times is to remind myself that my current hardship is momentary and that God is using my suffering for my good.
Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 that “…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…” Thus, I focus on the invisible eternal glory that is being built up in me for following Christ rather than the visible and fleeting experience of trouble.
Apostle James encourages believers that we should count it all joy for when we face trials of various kinds, it is testing our faith that will produce steadfastness. And when we let steadfastness have its full effect, we will be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2–4). I don’t find trials as joyous and glorious, but I do find joy in what God is doing through those difficult times. Through trials and difficulties he makes me progressively more like His Son. He strengthens my faith. In desperation I turn to God who alone can fully satisfy and comfort my soul.
GREAT IS OUR REWARD
God is involved in your suffering. Put your trust in Jesus who came to suffer alongside those who suffer, He became a human to secure and offer forgiveness for our sins and freedom from our shame. He came to provide the gift of salvation and secure for us eternal life through His death and resurrection. Heaven is our final home and great is our reward when we get there. Death marks the end of suffering for the Christian. In heaven God will dwell with His people, and “wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:3-4).
We are not alone in our pain. When we suffer, let us remember our crucified and risen Christ.