Nobody likes suffering. There are global initiatives that make it their mission to alleviate suffering. Comfort has become the mantra of the day. The message in today’s society is that anything that causes the slightest discomfort should be avoided. Worst still, this message has seeped into Christendom. Yet, the bible teaches that suffering is and will be present in this life; and is intrinsically part of the Christian life. So how can we, as Christians, suffer in such a way that shows the world, that our comfort is found in Christ alone?
How long Lord?
If you live long enough, you will encounter suffering. In this fallen world, due to sin, suffering is inevitable (John 16:33). Sometimes the suffering seems so unbearable that you are left asking the question; “how long Lord?” I’m sure that the woman with the issue of blood asked herself this same question multiple times. For those unfamiliar with the story, there was a woman who had been suffering from a discharge of blood for 12 years. She had seen many physicians to seek a cure to no avail (Mark 5:25-34). After spending all her money on these physicians, her illness grew worse. One day she encountered Jesus, and by simply touching the hem of His garment her suffering ceased immediately. Perhaps you can relate to this story? Have you been suffering for years and received no relief? Have you spent money on various solutions and been left in a worse situation than what you began with? Well, I recommend Jesus. As the woman in Mark 5 would testify, an encounter with Jesus changes everything.
A different outlook on suffering
Suffering can often be viewed with a myopic lens. In other words, suffering can be defined in such a narrow way that it minimises the experiences of a broad range of people. By definition, suffering is ‘the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship’. Therefore, suffering doesn’t just have to be stage 4 breast cancer, or your house being raided by armed robbers; it can also be continued rejected job applications or heartbreak from a relationship. There is no standardised threshold for pain. Humans are different and will respond to difficult situations differently. What people don’t need when they are suffering is for their pain to be delegitimised because “it’s not as bad as other people’s”. Whilst sobriety is necessary when engaging with someone’s suffering, what people need foremost is comfort. But what type of comfort? The kind that is worldly and seemingly idolatrous or the kind that is godly and purely divine?
Comfort from above
When suffering comes, the urge to seek refuge in comfort is not too far behind. Humans find comfort in a plethora of things, each insufficient to bear the weight of their grief. From food to sex, no created thing can deal with suffering, and such is an unfortunate consequence of sin. Only Jesus can provide the type of comfort that can swallow the gaping hole that suffering produces. And yet, knowing this, I find myself running to lesser things to produce this comfort. Do you? You see Jesus as the best person to run to when suffering arrives because He suffered as well (1 Peter 2:21).
To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.1 Peter 2:21
Jesus didn’t just suffer, He suffered for you and me. Because of our sin (our rebellion against God), we stood condemned before a holy and righteous God. But God who is rich in mercy sent His Son, Jesus, to live the perfect life for us, only to be pierced for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities that we may be healed! (Isaiah 53:5). Now, this resurrected Jesus beckons everyone to come to Him not just for mercy for their sins, but mercy for their life (Hebrews 4:16). This means when suffering comes, we aren’t alone. We have a God who will be right there with us as we experience our pain. A God who knows what we are going through and will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.Hebrews 4:16
So how can we suffer well? We must first know that suffering isn’t the end. Nothing, not even the greatest pain in the world, can separate you from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). That each suffering moment you go through is testing your faith to produce in you a steadfastness that will result in you being made perfect and lacking nothing (James 1:2-5). That even when you suffer because of your sin, God’s hand is not too harsh to destroy you but to discipline you, thus reminding you of your sonship (Hebrews 12:7). The scriptures remind us that many are the afflictions of the righteous, but God will deliver us out of them all (Psalm 34:19). And when you pray, and the suffering just doesn’t seem to end; know you have a good Father who won’t delay long in giving you justice (Luke 18:7). Finally, whilst you wait, know you have a God who promises to comfort you through all your afflictions (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) and when God sees you through, you’ll be able to point people away from their idols and to the One who can truly give comfort through all suffering.