Key Scripture: “…encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22 (ESV)
Some events are life-altering. Of everything written here, this one easily stands out as the most personal. Allow me to take you back to 2005. Having a baby is a dream of most couples. But when the baby is found to have a defect, the dream can quickly turn into a nightmare. The story surrounding the birth of our son, Zion, and what God has done since then, deserves its own book. But I will share a glimpse of it here. Even though it has been well over a decade, it is still fresh in my mind and soul. I am not sure I have completely recovered.
While working as a children’s pastor in Fairbanks, Alaska, Amanda and I were expecting our first child. The ultra-sound indicated we would be having a boy. A few days later we went to see our doctor for a follow up. That’s when the bomb was dropped. The ultrasound revealed a birth defect in his face, one that would affect the way he looked, his future speech, and require multiple surgeries all the way through adolescence. I remember thinking, “This isn’t happening.” Our dream of having a child had just turned into a nightmare, and the weight of it was crushing. One day during that time I went into the small room he would use and wept before God, totally covering the floor with tissues. No one can prepare for situations like this, and to this day I can easily recall the grief that went on for weeks and months. Over time he has far exceeded anyone’s expectations, including leaping into the 99th IQ percentile. But part of me is still grieving.
Following Christ is not a get-out-of-suffering card. On the contrary, it is through trials that one gets closer to God, if we so choose. Suffering of any kind renders us totally helpless and broken before Christ our Savior. It crushes the illusion that we were in control of our life and forces a clear line in the sand concerning how we relate to God. I have found the experience of suffering tends to move people decidedly away from or toward God. Suffering often brings people to a point of declaring one of two things: they will trust God no matter what, or they will never trust Him again. It’s not that followers of Christ somehow find it easier to negotiate the brutal terrain of suffering. However, they find the grace to identify with Job who declared, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (Job 13:15).
Did it ever occur to you that God suffers too? Just camp there for a moment. The God who possesses everything, needs nothing, and retains infinite sources of pleasure made the choice to suffer alongside the people He created. In medieval times one would not expect a wealthy, royal king to voluntarily live like a peasant. There exists no sound reason to forfeit the luxuries craved by so many. All logic and human ambition argue against such a move. Yet Isaiah prophesies that God Himself would suffer just as man does. “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem” (Isaiah 53:3). In the mysterious plan of God, Deity would give up the extravagances of the heavenly realm and enter into the suffering of man.
So rather than wonder why we must endure suffering, perhaps followers of Jesus should ponder why Christ Himself would suffer by choice. This, of course, leads to His extravagant love for mankind. Soldiers highly regard their superiors when they deny themselves rights of more comfortable quarters and endure the misery of the open field with them. The best leaders prove ready and willing to sacrifice for the sake of their followers. Christ did just this when he suffered for the people of the world, much to the dismay of heaven and earth. However, God’s Word does not only tell of Christ’s joining in suffering, but of a time yet to come in which He will eradicate it.
I suggest enduring suffering stands as the ultimate test of our love for God. In the same way, Christ’s brutal suffering represented the ultimate test of His love for us. The difference lies in the fact that we cannot usually possess the power to end our suffering. He could, but did not. Suffering forces us to answer the question: can we love and trust God even while experiencing the dark night of the soul? Here’s some good news: The Bible always predicts hope for God’s people. It does not diminish the pain we experience but rather points us toward a day when all such agony will end. Suffering may push our faith to the limit, but the Christian does well to remember God always stands with them, never against them.
Oh God, the pain I feel is sometimes too much to bear. I wish you would just take it away. But help me not to waste this time in my life. Somehow use it draw me closer to you. Thank you that you understand my suffering and even suffer with me. I choose to believe that you are for me, not against me.
· How does suffering test the limits of our faith?
· Has pain in your life ever produced a crisis of faith? If so, what was the result?
· How does it help you to know that Christ chose to suffer?
· What do you need from the people around you during times of great difficulty?