I won’t mince my words here. Everyone suffers. If you haven’t ever felt like you were downright suffering, just wait. You’ll get your turn too. No one gets away from it. It will look different for everyone, but if you start swapping stories of suffering with your fellow humans, you will find a huge tapestry of uniquely painful experiences that have left lasting marks. We can’t hide from it.
Cheerful stuff, huh? I say all that because I don’t want to spend time today on if we’ll suffer or not and what it might look like. I want to dive into the midst of it. In the midst of the pain and hurt we experience through suffering there are real and lasting truths of encouragement that can see us through to the other side.
We need these truths to hold onto in suffering because of how confusing and disorienting the experience is. Pain is so real and present, it insists on being felt and promises to just get worse if we try to ignore it. If we can’t ignore it then we have to face it, and no one should go into a battle of that magnitude unarmed. While many different things are true of suffering, there are three truths about it that have had a profound impact on the way I view it.
1. Suffering is not forever
There’s something about suffering that warps time and space. That’s part of what makes it suffering. We can’t tell which way is up and perspective goes out the window. Someone outside of what you’re dealing with may see it as simple, straightforward, and short but to you, it’s just a swirling mess without answers. The more disorienting it gets, the harder it is to know how long you’ve been there and if there’s an end to it. There is. There absolutely is. It just may not look like what you expect.
When the Bible talks about the timeline of suffering, it always has an end date or promise for after. It doesn’t promise us that suffering is just something you deal with for a couple of days and the “poof!” you’re done. Rather, it’s realistic with us that we might deal with it for the rest of our earthly lives, but that’s just it. Life for Christians doesn’t end on earth. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “There are far greater things ahead than any we leave behind.” There will be a day when suffering is over. Maybe suffering will be alleviated tomorrow, maybe years from now, but it will get better, better than we ever could have imagined. Paul says it best in Romans 8:18: “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.”
2. Suffering is not without purpose
One of the greatest plays in the suffering playbook is to make you think that everything in your life has been completely stalled by what is happening to you. We start beating ourselves for being knocked down and tell ourselves all sorts of things to reinforce the idea that life has come to a standstill or we are somehow complete failures. You know the fill in the blanks: If I could just___. If I just hadn’t____. If only ___. If this resonates with you at all, you need to know something.
You are not useless to the Kingdom of God because you hurt.
Not even a little bit. This is just another way God can show off his mind-boggling glory. God can do so much more with us in our weaknesses than we could ever do alone in our strength. God doesn’t stop working because you are suffering. If anything, he’s just getting started on something truly incredible.
Again, looking through the Bible for mentions of suffering, we find promise after promise of the good at work in the midst of it. Verses like James 1: 2-4 hold that promise, saying “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” And in Romans 8:28 Paul chimes in with “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”
We aren’t promised sunshine, roses, and the ability to opt out of suffering. We are promised growth, steadfastness, and a continuing place in God’s story. Suffering is not without purpose.
3. You are not alone
If the other two points have value, this one leaves them in the dust. This is the one that gives reason to the other two. This is the crux of the whole thing. You will never be alone in suffering.
Jesus repeatedly seeks to comfort those who follow him with his presence. He doesn’t mince his words a bit when he talks about the reality of suffering. Breeze through any of the gospels and you can easily find Jesus promising hardship and trials to those who follow him. He admits that suffering will be a given. However, he constantly follows up the reality of suffering with the promise of his presence. In John 16:33 he showcases this promise and his power, saying “I have told you all this so that you might have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
God knew about your suffering before you ever experienced it. He made you, and he won’t leave you in it. If that doesn’t convince you, don’t forget that even Jesus dealt with suffering. In that lies a humbling truth. There’s no hurt we can experience that Jesus doesn’t know the full extent of better than us. I don’t say that to say “Quit your whining! Jesus had it worse!”, but to encourage you that there is no negative emotion you can feel that Jesus can’t reach into from a place of understanding. You will never be alone.
The reality of life is sometimes harsh. Suffering is coming. It’s going to hurt. Maybe for you, it’s already here and you don’t need me reminding you of just how much it hurts. But remember this as well, Your suffering is not forever, not without purpose, and not without God’s presence. Endure. There will be more than the pain you feel.
Let’s find some joy,