What do you do when the events of your life threaten to hurt you, to overwhelm, and destroy? How should the Christian think about suffering?
I was talking with a friend this week; she is going through a very tough time, which threatens her health and much that she holds dear. “Why is this happening to me?” She asked. “I’m trying to trust God’s purposes, but I cannot see or understand what he is doing through this pain!”
As I’ve reflected on how I can encourage her in these circumstances, I know that no trite or simplistic answer will do!
Scripture gives us that firm and immovable anchor; one that holds fast even when nothing else does.
Paul says in Romans 8:35 “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” And what is his answer?
37 “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[m] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 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.”
I’ve been meditating on the whole of Romans 8 where, in the context of suffering pain and persecution in a fallen world, Paul reminds Christ’s followers of what will keep them following and loving him.
The verse that I keep coming back to in my own uncertainties, and as I weep with my friend comes a few verses earlier:
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,[j] who[k] have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
He who did not spare his own Son!
Surely nothing else can speak so powerfully, to the one who sees much that they hold dear ripped away from them, and yet still seeks to trust in the loving sovereignty of their God?!
God did not withhold the agony and death of his only son, that we might be saved from facing God’s righteous anger against our sin.
His death shows us both the seriousness of the debt our sin creates, and gloriously, the riches of the love of God towards sinners. A love unshaken by our suffering in this life.
We may have no resources to understand why God allows us to face our current circumstances. Perhaps we can’t imagine how anything good can result? Is God playing with us, or blind to our hurt?
What prevents us from losing hope that God loves us, and uses all things for our good, is the cross which stands forever as a witness.
We look to it, when all else fails to make sense. And we know that the God who did not withhold his precious, perfect son, will also withhold no good thing from his blood-bought children.
We don’t know how our experiences will work for our good. But what we do know is that Jesus has paid for us with his life, and is fully, faithfully, committed to our good.
And it’s not a vague, spiritual ‘good’, or the kind of ‘good’ our parents meant when they told us to eat our vegetables!
Scripture speaks of how God uses our pain to refine us, like Gold that is purified, emerging from the terrible furnace, pure and stunningly beautiful.
He redeems our pain for our good.
It’s a good that encompasses body, soul, and spirit, so that Christ may present us as his people, whole, and without blemish.
And it’s a good that we can know in part now, as we taste and see that God is good even in the midst of our pain, that he is enough, when he is truly all that we have.
Perhaps the pain that we ask God to withhold from us is the very thing that will deepen our faith and get us to the finish line.
I don’t think we will ever stop grappling with this, and I want acknowledge that this subject of suffering is a huge one that I only address in the smallest way, forgive me my omissions!
But these scriptures hold us up as we struggle. He loves us and he has shown us by giving up his only son, in our place, that we might live. How will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
Our loving, faithful, infinitely wise Father.
He loves when we do not, he is faithful when we are faithless, he is strong when suffering makes us weak.
Amazingly we are promised that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us – and
this by Paul who experienced more suffering than most of us will ever know!
One day we will be free of all pain and grief, made whole that we might worship our Saviour and King.
But in the meantime we are told that the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.(v.26-7)
What a comfort! When we experience pain that we are sure no one can alleviate, when the brokenness of this world causes us to despair, we are promised that God’s spirit intercedes on our behalf!
Friends, I encourage you to read Romans 8 for yourself, (always best to read things in context!) It has been a real comfort to me, and these are promises that will stand until Jesus returns and ends sin, sorrow, and death forever!