Heart Verse: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-12 )
Why does God allow suffering? Our world is laden with it. Addiction. Loss. Disease. Poverty. Mental illness. Violence. In the harsh reality of it, we remind ourselves that God is still on the throne. We can trace the root of it back to Eden, where Adam and Eve’s ill-fated encounter with the serpent resulted in our fallen state, sin nature being the inheritance bequeathed to us by them. However, when we read in Revelation 13:8b that Christ is “the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world,” we are assured that God already had a plan in place. I get excited reading Genesis 3 because in the midst of the first human failure we see God planting hope. He systematically dresses Adam and Eve down for their disobedience, and in between, turns His attention to the scheming serpent, speaking doom with the first Messianic prophecy: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heal” (Genesis 3:15). Our Savior is coming!
Before we can scrutinize our own suffering, we must first remember that Jesus suffered, too. “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:3-5).
The Christ, in His sinless state, bore the humiliating agony of the Cross so that we could know salvation—a salvation that we could never earn, repay or be worthy of. So I ask you, if God would allow our Savior to suffer, is there any reason why we should be exempt? The human mind cannot fathom the weight of Christ’s misery. We have examples from scriptures and life of individuals who have suffered, but nothing can compare to the price Jesus paid on our behalf.
In a succession of waves, Job lost his property, livelihood, children, and health. And yet he proclaimed from the ash heap with skin raw and clothing torn, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25-27)
Horatio Spafford, writer of the well-loved hymn, “It Is Well,” is a contemporary type of Job. He buried his four-year-old son, suffered financial ruin as a result of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and another economic downturn two years later. Not long after, he and his wife felt led to England to assist with D.L. Moody’s evangelism campaigns. Being delayed, Horatio dispatched his wife and four daughters ahead of him. Their ship sank after a collision at sea, and he received this telegram from his wife, “Saved alone.” Their little girls had drowned. Traveling to England to grieve with his wife, he penned the haunting lyrics, a sample of which is below, as his ship passed over the place of the tragedy:
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, let this blest assurance control
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate and hath shed His own blood for my soul
My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—my sin, not in part but the whole
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O My Soul!
Several years ago, while undergoing radiation therapy for breast cancer, I met a lovely, older woman in the holding room. She, too, was awaiting treatment. As we chatted, she mentioned that her husband was currently in the hospital with serious health issues, and that she’d be going to his bedside post haste. Sharing further, she spoke of losing her 30-something daughter to suicide a few years prior. More recently, her younger adult daughter, unable to bear the loss of her sister, followed suit. My thoughts flew to Job. My head shook in disbelief. “How are you able to raise your head off the pillow each day?” I managed to squeak out. She smiled, “I have the joy of the Lord!”
In October, I met an extraordinary group of women who shared a common bond. The name of their organization, MOMS Group Inc., is an acronym for “Mothers of Murdered Sons.” That such an organization is needed in our society gives me great pause. They openly shared from their places of grief, hoping that by doing so, their sons would live on through their stories. Once a year, they hold an event where each woman recites a monologue recalling the moment they received the news that her son had been killed. They do this to raise awareness and God willing, to prevent other mothers and sons from experiencing the same tragedy. As I spoke with one mom of six children, who had not yet marked the one-year anniversary of her boy’s death, I asked about her journey forward. She looked up and said with a peace that can only come from Christ, “I love and miss my son desperately, but he is not my God.”
More recently, I had the privilege of speaking at a Women’s Prayer Breakfast. “Suffering” was the topic of discussion. “Trusting God in Our Suffering,” to be precise. A woman in the audience stood to share. Her voice choked with emotion, she spoke of the heartbreaking loss of her three-year-old grandson to a rare form of cancer: “Even as the doctors called us in to say good bye, I trusted that God would save him. He died anyway.” The room went still, the air heavy, every woman imagining herself in her sister’s shoes. Some held their breath. Others wept. In that moment, the Holy Spirit’s whispered words would have sounded hollow to an unbelieving ear, but to believers, they were the stuff of comfort and hope and life: “Sometimes Abba’s answer to prayer is to bring your loved one home.” This beautiful Grandma, this daughter of the King, was in anguish—and she still praised God.
Each of these individuals trusted God through their seasons of loss. We all suffer. Those seasons come and go and come again, some more painful than the last. Our Abba Papa does not minimize our hurts, and they are not in vain. He is glorified through them, our faith is deepened (we are not the same person when we exit the dark tunnel that we were when we entered), and with the world watching, non-believers are being led to salvation as a result of our witness when the water is up to our necks. Paul’s encouragements in Romans give us Kingdom perspective: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (8:18) and shortly after, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (8:28).
Our ocean of pain may be deep and wide, with waves pounding down on us relentlessly. Our trials are real, and yet no matter how excruciating, they are the trials of one person—you or me or our brother or sister. When we compound that individual level of travail with the weight of sin for all mankind, we see the degree of suffering that Christ endured for us. Jesus carried the weight of every person to the Cross. We should take comfort in the remembrance of that when we cry out in our pain seasons. We have a Savior who empathizes with our suffering because His was great, and it was for the greatest purpose of all: the salvation of the world.