The Suffering And Comfort Of God

Some days I wake up lethargic, totally unmotivated and feeling pretty miserable.

Maybe you can resonate with me. The day just starts off with a shadow hanging over it like an overcast day in December that tells you it has no intention of changing and instead may add injury to insult by raining on your parade.

Image by Asif Akbar
Image by Asif Akbar

Some days that’s it.

No sun breaks through. The clouds remain, dull and miserable: greedily ready to devour every scrap of potential cheer. Other days there isn’t a cloud in the sky. But most days, typical of Northern Ireland, the clouds clear and the sun comes out bringing with it life and joy, at least until the clouds return later in the day.

Maybe you could chalk it all up to seasonal effectiveness disorder. Though personally I enjoy days with overcast weather: listening to the pitter-patter of rain against my window, the wind howling to be let inside and the trees waving to cars and pedestrians as they pass them by.

Give me Winter over Summer any day.

But I don’t enjoy feeling overcast.

There is a dullness, a weariness, to those days. Every movement is laboured. Every thought comes through a mire.

Some don’t survive the journey.

 

We’re all different.

(Just like everyone else)

So your experience is probably different to mine which is why I won’t presume to tell how to turn your frowny day upside down. I haven’t even figured out how to break through my own clouds to reach the sun, who am I to give you advice?

If platitudes and Bible verses, positive thinking and proactive doing, were enough to clear the sky so we could feel the sun on our skin wouldn’t everyone do it?

Don’t we have enough prosperity preachers already?

I couldn’t preach any kind of prosperity gospel anyway, my teeth aren’t white enough.

 

Sorry if I’m beginning to sound like the Teacher from Ecclesiastes: in need of a hug.

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”
What do people gain from all their labours
at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever…
All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.”
(Ecclesiastes 1:2-4, 8 NIV)

“What’s the point? Why bother? Nothing changes. I’m just so tired of all this…”

Maybe he’s right.

Maybe it’s time to give up and give in.

Maybe it’s time for that hug.

 

The world is often a very dark place, full of despair and ceaseless tears. Jesus tells us that the blessed are those who enter into the mourning of this life because they know their comfort comes from God (Matthew 5:4). The blessed are those who mourn the brokenness in the world around them and their own inner brokenness.

They don’t run away from it.

They don’t awkwardly avoid eye contact.

And they don’t numb themselves to it.

They embrace it. They mourn for it. They enter into the suffering of the world, the suffering of others and their own personal suffering because their comfort comes from a God who has himself entered into the mourning and suffering of this world.

Truthfully though:

We don’t want dark days with overcast skies and promises of rain.

We don’t want to enter into and embrace our own mourning and suffering, not to mention that of others.

We don’t want our comfort to come from God, we want God to makes us comfortable as we are.

 

But suffering is both inevitable and unavoidable. Dark days and overcast skies are going to come. Maybe they’re already here. Maybe they’ve been here for a while.

What are we to do?

Did we really sign up for this?

Isn’t God supposed to make everything better?

Sometimes the darkness lifts does not lift and there is no happy ending. At least not the happy ending we might want or expect. Sometimes God calls us to live in the darkest valley but our comfort is that he has been there himself and is with us in the midst of it, right this second (Psalm 23:4). In these seasons of life our comfort is threefold:

God Is Not Immune To Suffering

When things went badly wrong in the Garden God could have scrapped the whole thing and begun again and saved himself a lot of pain. It would have been just for him to do so because sin deserves to be punished but instead he showed grace and patience (what was once so aptly called longsuffering). As we move through the Genesis narrative we see a God who is “deeply troubled” in his heart that he ever created us so great had our sin become upon the earth to the point where he “regretted that he had made human beings on the earth”, but even in the punishment of sin he showed grace by sparing some to preserve our prodigiously wayward race (Genesis 6:5-8).

The Old Testament repeatedly shows God’s longsuffering with his self-emancipating children who through their continual prostitution to every kind of idol brought more suffering upon themselves and upon the God who longed to be their Father. In punishment he extended grace knowing that though he suffered long things would not always be this way.

God Suffered For Us

“At just the right time” (Romans 5:6-8) God entered fully into the suffering of his world and of his people by becoming a man. Throughout his life Jesus suffered in every way as we do, he wasn’t spared anything. He didn’t look for an easy way out, though he could easily have avoided suffering had he so desired. Instead he,

“Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very natureof a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!” (
Philippians 2:6-8 NIV)

The Son of God suffered in life and in death to identify with us and to bear God’s just wrath against us for our sin to make us the adopted, legitimate, children of God once again. He embraced suffered in its fullest extent. The suffering was excruciating but his comfort was that God loved him: indefinitely, perfectly and unchangeably. By trusting his Father in the midst of suffering his circumstances were in no way altered but his experience of them was indelibly changed because he knew God was with him and far better things were ahead than what he had left behind.

“For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:2-3 NIV)

A World Without Suffering

A day is coming when our King will return to finally and for all time put his enemies and ours under his feet.

Death will die.

Suffering will cease.

Pain will give way to joy unending.

Tears will be no more.

As we eagerly anticipate this day we catch glimpses of this world to come like beams of sunlight breaking through dark clouds in the sky. Heaven is coming to earth. Jesus is the King who has suffered for us, who is with us in our suffering and who is coming again to bring an end to all suffering and make all things new.

Suffering now takes on new meaning in the light of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and return,

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NIV)

In the midst of very real suffering let us not lose heart or lose sight of our reigning and returning King who is coming to make all the sad and painful things untrue.

~

Suffering is a huge and emotionally fraught topic which is impossible to deal with adequately in something so limited as a blog post, though I hope what I’ve written has been helpful. For this reason I would recommend the follow resources as an aid to understanding suffering and to help us suffer well as Jesus did:

Prayer: God has experienced and overcome suffering and he invites us to share our suffering with him.

Reading the Bible: Specifically Lamentations and the Psalms but for a holistic understanding and approach to suffering we need to read the whole Bible.

Share with your spouse and/or a trusted friend(s) what you’re going through so they can intentionally walk with you through suffering.

Speak with your pastor and your doctor. Sometimes we need specialist help, whether spiritual or physical, to help us (and possibly to alleviate our suffering).

The list of books on the topic of suffering is practically endless and there are many excellent titles but I’d recommend:

When the Darkness Will Not Lift by John Piper (free pdf here). It is very short (79 pages), assessable and helpful. I highly recommend it.

Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller. This is much longer (322 pages) and so deals with suffering in greater depth. It is spilt into separate sections that deal with suffering philosophically (Part 1), theologically (Part 2) and practically (Part 3) so whether you’re going through suffering, wanting to prepare for it or want to help others there is something here for everyone.

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