Paul talked about the value of suffering in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.”
We may think we can sympathize with someone, but until we have been there personally, there is no true understanding of their hurt. Experiencing suffering makes us more likely to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15), and better enables us to comfort others when they suffer.
It has been said that “People are like tea bags. If you want to know what’s inside them, just drop them into hot water!” It has also been said that “Whatever a person is filled to the brim with will spill out when they are bumped!” Have you ever been bumped, dropped in hot water, had your faith tested with a problem? What do your problems reveal about you?
Problems, trials, and tribulations build character. Romans 5:3-4: “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.”
James 1:2-3: “My brothers and sisters, when you have many kinds of troubles, you should be full of joy, because you know that these troubles test your faith, and this will give you patience.”
Some of you may be suffering right now. If you are, I want you to understand that you aren’t suffering because you are a worse sinner than the rest of us. And some of you are doing great right now, no complaints. That doesn’t mean you are better than the person sitting next to you who is hurting.
Didn’t God say in Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Now if that is true, why does life have to be so difficult, why doesn’t God just “fix” everything so we never have to suffer?
So often when tragedies strike or hard times come, we ask, “Where is God when we hurt and it won’t stop hurting?” In asking this question, we assume that God must not have known what was about to happen to us or else He would have prevented it. Or we assume that God must not love us, because surely, if He loved us, He would keep us from all hurtful times and hard experiences. Or maybe God messed up, or maybe He was busy somewhere else and forgot about us. All of these assumptions are wrong. God knows, and God loves, and God never makes mistakes.
Yet so many people, including many Christians, have the idea that God is angry and looking to strike them down any time they make a mistake. Friends, somewhere along the way God has gotten some bad press. God is not mad at us, He is mad about us; He isn’t looking to level us, He is longing to love us; God does not hate us, He desires to help us; God doesn’t want to hurt us, He wants to heal us; God doesn’t want to be separated from us, He wants to save us. He wants to be more than our creator; He wants to be our Father. God cannot love you more – He will not love you less.
It has been said that the real pain of suffering is not the actual hurt and pain that we go through – martyrs have proven that physical suffering can be endured. The real pain is that it seems that God is not listening and seeing what is going on.
We ask, “Where is God – why is He avoiding us – why won’t He answer? Why, if God is all powerful, doesn’t He remove suffering from the world?”
When we ask that question we are assuming that He hasn’t done anything at all. But in fact, He has, is, and will. First, God Himself came into this world, with all its sorrow, pain, and wickedness, and lived as a man. Jesus was well acquainted with suffering. He knew poverty, thirst, hunger, injustice, physical abuse, heartbreak, and betrayal. He ended his life in excruciating pain. So God understands our condition. He has personally experienced it – even Jesus suffered:
Isaiah 52:14 – “But many were amazed when they saw Him. His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human, and from His appearance, one would scarcely know He was a man.”
Hebrews 2:10 – “God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation.”
Hebrews 5:8-9: “Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him.”
Without the cross and the resurrection of Jesus, suffering has no meaning; it becomes a hopeless encounter with pain. But because Jesus suffered and died and rose victorious over the grave – we have hope!