At one point or another, in every person’s life, suffering becomes intensely personal. If you’re reading this, then you have probably experienced suffering or are currently suffering in some measure. You suffer regardless of your religious persuasion (or lack thereof), political alignment, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. You will suffer due to economic woes, death of loved ones, tragic accidents, relational breakdown, and the like. So what’s my point: everyone suffers.
So if we all suffer, the question then arises: how should we navigate suffering? Obviously, I can’t address all the many different ways we suffer. My observations have to be very general. Let me note though, that I am not referring to suffering that comes as a direct result of your own sin (i.e. if you commit a crime, then you go to jail). Sometimes we are given mercy from bad decisions we make in this life, but other times we aren’t. In this post, I’m talking about suffering that does not come as a direct result of bad decisions you’ve made. I’d like to propose two things that we can cling to for dear life when in the midst of unprovoked anguish.
1. Suffer in the Light of the Cross
When you suffer, the natural struggle is to wonder why God is allowing such heinous things to happen to you. And there is nothing wrong with wondering that. What happens, though, is that there normally comes a point where you feel like you’re being punished. So how do you know, when you’re suffering, that God is not punishing you? The cross.
When you look to the cross, you understand that Jesus took every last ounce of the punishment you deserved. As the old hymn Before the Throne of God Above says:
For God the Just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me
I can confidently say, that when you suffer, God is not punishing you. He loves you. The cross is the proof. God no longer sees you as a rebel in defiance of His commands, but as a precious child. He is a good, a caring Father who gives you that which is for your good (see Lk. 11:11-13, Rom. 8:28).
2. Suffer in God’s Presence
Another problem you may experience in suffering is loneliness. Sometimes, you can feel alienated from others who aren’t suffering as you are. Then to compound the problem, people will quote cliché phrases in an attempt to comfort you. All you really need is them to weep with you and hurt with you, even if they can’t comprehend your pain.
How, then, does God’s presence alleviate this sense of loneliness?
Firstly, He doesn’t expect you to “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” and “move on with life.” He expects you to feel the pain. He’s not sitting on His throne looking down at you, waiting for you to get over it. Is it any wonder that Paul refers to Him as the “God of all comfort who comforts us in all our affliction” (2 Cor. 1:3-4)? He wants to see you persevere through the trials, not circumvent them.
Secondly, He is able to sympathize with your suffering because He, Himself, suffered. When He looked ahead to His suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ even asked the Father if it would be possible not to suffer (Mt. 26:39). He suffered just thinking about His coming suffering!
Lastly, He has put His Spirit in the church (1 Cor. 3:16). If you are surrounded by a loving church family, then you can experience God’s presence in the community of believers around you. This is the most intensely practical and helpful way to find comfort in the midst of hardship. If you are disconnected from your church family, then get involved with people at church.
Let me finish by saying that this post is really for people who are not suffering. If you are suffering, you don’t need information; you need a community of people around who will pray with you, cry with you, hug you, hold your hand, and to generally be present. Hopefully, these things will help, but they are more helpful to work as reinforcement for those not currently suffering.
May the Lord’s steadfast love carry you through all of life’s trials!