How long, O Lord?
If you’ve been with us thus far in Signs of Your Guide, you know that we’ve talked about various forms of suffering. We’ve mentioned suffering from anxiety, suffering from depression – indeed, all sorts of ways in which the stresses and strains of this life seem to overwhelm us at times.
Some of us have suffered through the loss of a loved one or the loss of health in some way. Sometimes our suffering goes on and on, endlessly it seems, and we wonder where God is when we suffer like this. Is He good? Does He care? Does He even notice me in my pain? Does He see the circumstances I’m in?
These are truly tough questions and there are no easy answers, per se. That is, there are no answers that will, like a pill, necessarily cause us to feel better and at peace with what’s happening in our lives. That’s just not the way it works. Yes, there is suffering in this world; you can count on it.
But, the question can be asked, “If God knows us in our pain and suffering and is present with us, is it possible that He desires to be present to us in a special way through our suffering? Could suffering be a way in which He purifies our desires, our interests, and pursuits, so that we might focus on more important questions – questions concerning Him and His plan for our lives?
Jesus Moves toward Us in Our Suffering
In John 11 – the Gospel of John, one of the four Gospels written in the New Testament – Jesus performs a very profound miracle. He raises His dear friend Lazarus from the dead. While the story involves great suffering and grief, it is profoundly instructive; it teaches us how Jesus deals with our suffering. It shows us that He does not run from our pain, but engages us in it. He is good and He does care.
When Jesus receives news that Lazarus has died, He tells His disciples that they are going to Bethany – Lazarus’s home – about two miles from Jerusalem. The disciples are deeply concerned for Jesus’ welfare, as well as their own. The religious authorities in Jerusalem were looking to persecute Jesus, even put Him to death, if they could. Jesus’ concern for us in our suffering, as highlighted here by His going to be with Mary and Martha in Bethany, despite the potential cost to Himself, is remarkable. Many people think that God is not fazed by their suffering; the opposite is true. He enters our suffering at great cost to Himself, we’ll see in a moment.
It is true that we often do not completely or even simply grasp what God is doing in our suffering, but it seems clear from Jesus’ response to Mary and Martha’s suffering that He does not remain aloof. When we suffer, Jesus does not turn around and go the other way. But, what exactly does He do, when He enters into our pain and sorrow?
He Embraces Us in Our Pain
When Jesus moves toward us in our suffering, it is to embrace us in our pain and to sit with us in our grief. When Jesus was with Mary and Martha, and saw their suffering, John 11:33-34 says that He was greatly moved in spirit and deeply distressed. He extended great compassion toward Lazarus’s weeping sisters and felt the weight of their loss and grief. He wept over the death of His good friend (11:35). God desires to enter into our pain, if we will let Him.
Jesus is deeply distressed for us as we live with the burden of sin and its final consequences, even death and separation from God. He is distressed by this reality for this is not the way it was supposed to be. He is angry that sin has so taken hold as to ruin us, separate us from God, and lead to untold grief, pain, and torment.
Jesus Has Overcome Pain, Suffering & Death Itself
When we experience prolonged suffering, we can be tempted to think that He really does not care. But, not only does He care and remain deeply concerned about us, He enters into our sadness, feeling the weight of our pain, hurt, and grief. But, He enters in with power and hope. Earlier in the story (v. 25-26), while He was speaking with Martha, He called her to trust Him as the One who had overcome death. To Martha, He referred to Himself as the resurrection and the life. He called Martha to trust Him as such; He summons us to do the same.
What, then, is the real goal God is pursuing in and through our suffering? In truth, there are likely many things, but not one of them involves His retreating from us. Much of what He does when we’re suffering remains a mystery, beyond our reach. But, one thing seems clear in the Bible, through suffering God remains good, He cares, and He is working to draw our hearts to Himself. He is working to rouse our deaf ears. As C S Lewis once wrote,
“…we can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”The Problem of Pain, ch. 6
He is working to help us learn what’s most important, and that’s a relationship with Him through the One who thoroughly entered into our suffering by way of a gruesome cross. He did not run away but suffered for us and in our place. Because of His relentless love for us, He willingly received what we deserved.
So, whatever you’re going through right now, whatever struggle is weighing you down, or if your life currently involves profound suffering, know that Jesus has not gone the other way. He has not abandoned you, but has, at great cost to Himself, drawn near and desires to be present, not only with you but especially to you.
We’ll talk more about the cross in the next course, Meeting Your Guide, but for now, just know that on the cross, Jesus took all our suffering and dealt with it, once and for all. He did so in order to bring us to God. He dealt with all the evil we ourselves perpetrate, to bring cleansing and forgiveness.
Suffering is multi-faceted and a difficult reality to talk about. But, again, I simply want to leave you with these thoughts: God doesn’t run the other way when we suffer. He moves toward us and grieves with us, all at great cost to Himself. But, Jesus has overcome suffering and death, even as He is the very resurrection and life. Do you believe this?