The Blessing Of Suffering

THE BLESSING OF SUFFERING

Sherri Drury

Human suffering exists. Death, grief, tragedy, abuse, loss, injury, disease, prolonged hardships. We can’t escape it. It takes many forms. It can happen in an instant and take our breath away, it can move in for a season leaving its fingerprints all over our lives, or like an unwanted guest, it can overstay its welcome and wear us down. All that is broken and evil in the world is amplified in suffering. It can crush.

For those who have no belief in a god, suffering just proves their point that life is purposeless and the universe is cruel. If they believe in many gods, they may have a slight reprieve by investigating which gods are good and which  are badand what they might have done to call down the wrath of one of those gods.

Christians, too, wrestle with suffering. We follow and emulate a God who willingly suffered himself. Suffering has always been an important characteristic of a Christian  worldview. In our current series, we have learned that God doesn’t cause suffering, but He can bring good out of it. We have discovered how suffering can give us the right perspective on life. But these concepts are hard to remember and embrace in a moment of suffering. I find myself needing a bit more to hang on to.

How can a loving and good and powerful God allow suffering?

Can I ask what questions instead of this how question? My questions are these: What does God do in the midst of our suffering? What is God’s response?

He hears and sees and is moved.

I can only imagine what a hopeless misery slavery is, overwhelmingly accumulating day after day, stretching out year after year, covering generation after generation. The Bible tells us that the enslaved Israelites’ groans and cries were heard by God and that He was concerned. Can we sit on that for a moment? God whose thoughts are higher than ours, who is so holy that we can’t see him and live, who is enthroned over all creationemotionally enters into our situation with us. And He is moved to act.

For the Israelites, God acted by hardening a ruler’s heart, inflicting plagues on an entire nation, powerfully splitting seas apart, faithfully guiding his people by visible manifestations, miraculously sustaining them on their journey. And the icing on the cake is this: He acted to bring them up into a good and spacious land that He had lovingly prepared for them so they wouldn’t need to “slave” away to survive anymore. What did it feel like to go from slave, to sojourner, to settler in a spacious land? After all those years, isn’t that wonderfully sweet?

Long before this, another slave, Hagar, was sent to sleep with her masterprobably without much choiceand was mistreated and beaten by her master’s wife. She was exiled to the desert with her young son. Unable to watch her own son die from thirst, her body racked by sobs, she heard from God. She did not return to her previous circumstances. She received neither apologies nor justice. But God entered into her pain, fear, and despair. He offered comfort through His presence. He not only sustained her physical life by giving her water, He filled her with hope by sharing a vision of the future.

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 (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). This is who He is. The God of all comfort!

It would be easier if God delivered us from all our troubles and insulated us from all suffering. And I, too, feel confusion, frustration, even anger when God doesn’t do that. But in this moment, I am going to relish the realization that we have a God who stoops down, enters into our suffering with us, and brings comfort.

Centuries later, God entered into our suffering again, this time not just as a voice or as a spiritual presence, but in the flesh. Jesus not only walked on the earth, He walked into the suffering that engulfs this broken world.

This is highlighted so well in Luke 4. After Jesus healed the mother-in-law of one of his disciples, word spread throughout the region. And by the time the setting sun hovered over the horizon, a crowd had gathered in the front lawn. Imagine this: People lying immobile on mats littered across the expanse, bodies shaking and lurching from seizures, the blind stumbling and groping to find their way, groans from the sick and shrieks from the demon-possessed, lepers hidden in the shadowy periphery. A crowd can be overwhelming at any time, but can you imagine a crowd like this? The immense need. Faces full of deferred hopes mounting up one more time. Perhaps as the daylight faded, it was more the smells, sounds, and reaching hands that Jesus experienced.

We know from Scripture that Jesus’ main mission was to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God all over the regionto preach and teach and disciple. Yet here on this one night, Jesus hit pause. He sacrificed sleep. And He walked into the center of that crowd. Scripture tells us that He laid his hands on each one. Every suffering one.

The reality is that Jesus could have spoken a word and healed the entire crowd. He had done it before with others. But He chose not only to walk into the crowd, but also to enter into each person’s suffering. He acknowledged them with his presence, his time, his attention, and his touch. And oh, yes, He also healed them. But let’s not jump so quickly to the life-correcting healing that we miss the life-altering presence.

Jesus never went completely off-mission. But in this moment, He chose to fully enter in with the suffering that surrounded him. And might I add herehow could He not? I’m not sure He could help himself. He saw and He heard. He was standing in the midst of it. He knew what we humans were created to be, and in that moment He witnessed what sin and brokenness and evil caused us to become. So He brought comfort to these hopeless, hurting, forgotten people.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. (1 Peter 5:10)

Thank you, God for a message embedded in your Holy Word that puts a time limit on suffering. It may not happen on our timeline, but suffering will endon this side of heaven or the other.

And thank you, too, that you, God, will restore us. Neither other humans, nor time, nor circumstances, nor ruling powers, nor our own efforts. No, He himself will enter into our suffering and restore us. He will restore all that has been lost in our suffering and He will strengthen us. In other words, He won’t leave us a crushed mess!

He enters into suffering with us. He always has. And He always will. And it was never clearer than on the cross. He is a God who suffers with us and He is a God who suffers for us. One offers us abundant comfort and the other offers us permanent hope. Hallelujah!

One Response

  1. Great job on this devotional. Suffering is what God has done for us. Our suffering is minuscule in comparison. His love is beyond comprehension. Have a great trip, wedding and family in person contacts.

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