Everyone suffers in one way or the other. A follower of Christ is no exception to this rule. In fact, quite often, a disciple suffers more than others do. However, a disciple suffers differently than others…in the sense that a believer has agonizingly to reconcile the reality of one’s misery and pain with the goodness of God. To the person who does not believe in the love and grace of God, suffering is just physical pain; however, a believer has the difficult task of solving complex questions of faith and philosophy. The very gospel we believe in makes it more difficult for us to understand and explain pain and suffering, because the gospel tells us that God is not only good but he also cares about us: “Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you” ( I Peter 5: 7). Thus, for a disciple, the gospel adds the anguish of skepticism to the reality and mystery of suffering. I submit that, at times, I am like a child who feels that my parents love and care for me but deep down in my heart I doubt if that is the case!
As someone who loves the Lord and trusts that God is good, I see tragedies happen to me and to the people of God around me. However, the unbearable fact that I have to live with the knowledge that I do not understand why this is happening and would never be able to fathom it makes it even more difficult. As a minister who is supposed to be well versed in theology and who preaches the goodness of the Lord, his unconditional love, and unlimited grace, I often find myself dumbfounded at the bedside of a mother who refuses to be consoled at the loss of her young child. I find myself at a loss of words when I have to explain to young parents why their infant was born with a certain abnormality. I am sure, you, too, know that since Job in the Old Testament several people have faced this dilemma and have asked such questions about evil and pain. However, no one has been able to find answers. Therefore, many expect Jesus Christ to solve and answer the mystery of evil in the world. However, he did not provide us with an easy all-in-one answer. As much as Jesus knew and personally understood pain, he chose not to answer this old mystery for humanity. Instead, the one who suffered and died the most brutal and cursed death of his time, stated: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16: 24). He categorically stated that his followers have to be prepared to face the same kind of sufferings that he experienced for us.
Nevertheless, I draw my encouragement from the fact that our Savior, Jesus Christ, confidently ended his painful death on the cross with these wonderful words on his lips:
“Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23: 46).
Jesus did not despair in his death. He knew the purpose of his pain was to defeat death. Moreover, not only did Jesus Christ conquer death, but he has also revealed to us how the story ends. This makes me confident about how it is all going to end even though I do not know every detail of it right now. I want you also to know that our sorrow will be swallowed up in joy and death will be destroyed by eternal life (Isaiah 35: 10; 51: 11; I Corinthians 15:54)! Therefore, friends,
“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Romans 5: 3-5).