Suffering is never abstract, theoretical or impersonal. Suffering is real, tangible, personal and specific. The Bible never presents suffering as an idea or a concept but puts it before us in the blood-and-guts drama of real human experiences. When it comes to suffering, scripture is never avoidant or cosmetic in its approach. The Bible never minimizes the harsh experiences of life in this terribly broken world. Rather, it forces us out of our denial and toward humble honesty. In fact, the Bible is so honest about suffering and it recounts stories so weird and dark that if they were in a Netflix video you probably wouldn’t watch it.
Scripture never looks down on the sufferer, mocks his pain, turns a deaf ear to his cries or condemns him for his struggles. It presents to the sufferer a God who understands, cares and invites us to come to him for help. This God promises to one day to end all suffering of any kind, once and forever. Because of this, the Bible, while being dramatically honest about suffering, is at the same time gloriously hopeful. And it’s not just that the Bible tells the story of suffering honestly and authentically; it also gives us concrete and real hope.
Remember that the theology of suffering in scripture is never, ever an end in itself but is designed as a means to the end of real comfort, real direction, real protection, real conviction and real hope. The concrete way of dealing with what scripture teaches forces us away from platitudes and denial; moving us toward concrete understanding and candor.
Because of the amazing practical wisdom of God’s Word, the glory of God’s presence and power, and the reality of mercies that are new every morning, we do not have to run from this topic. We can stare it in the face with open and expectant hearts. Remember that the hope of redemption is not just reserved for eternity but is a real, living, present hope. This hope is rooted in the fact that your Lord is in you. He is with you and He is for you right here, right now. And this truth radically changes how we understand, experience and respond to the suffering that has or surely will come our way. So with Gospel courage read on, knowing that there is no valley of suffering so deep that God’s grace in Jesus isn’t deeper.
Have you ever considered that at its core, suffering is spiritual warfare?
One thing to think about is that suffering is never neutral. You and I never come to our suffering empty-handed. We always drag a bag full of experiences, expectations, assumptions, perspectives, desires, intentions and decisions along with us. Our lives are shaped not just by what we suffer but by what we bring along with our suffering. What you think about yourself, life, God and others will profoundly affect the way you think about, interact with and respond to the difficulty that comes your way.
Could your story be about the regular things that happen to us all while living in a world that has been dramatically damaged by sin? Sickness and disease live in this world; eventually our bodies break down or don’t function properly. In this world, sometimes chronic and acute pain assaults us and makes life nearly unlivable. We live in a broken world where people die, food decays, wars rage, governments are corrupt, people take what isn’t theirs and inflict violence on one another, spouses act hatefully toward each other, children are abused instead of protected, people slowly die of starvation or die suddenly from disease, sexual and gender confusion lives, drugs addict and destroy, gossip destroys reputations, lust and greed control hearts, and bitterness grows like a cancer. The list could go on and on.
The Bible doesn’t pull any punches. At every turn, it informs and warns us about the nature of the world, which is the address where we all live. Whether it is a dramatic narrative of life, a doctrine that informs or a wisdom principle about how to live well, scripture works to prepare us so we will be ready for the things we will all face. God gives us everything we need so that we will live with realistic expectations and so that moments of difficulty will not be full of shock, fear and panic, but experienced with faith, calm, and confident choices.
Although correct theology might be in place at street level, we need to ask: are our expectations realistic? Because if expectations are unrealistic, it makes suffering harder.
We can then go back and look at the concept and truth that you never suffer just the thing that you’re suffering, but we also suffer the way that we’re suffering it. Each of us brings to our experiences things that shape the way that we suffer. We all suffer, but we don’t suffer the same way, because our suffering is shaped by what we carry into the difficulties that come our way.
I want to encourage you to get the book by Paul David Tripp titled Suffering (Gospel Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense). I have taken parts from the first two chapters of this book and shared them with you to give you a hunger to learn more about how you can have hope in the midst of your suffering. This book is a great resource not only for you, but for those you may know who are struggling. Your heart can be opened to how the Gospel can really transform your thinking and understanding of suffering. It can help get or maybe keep your heart lined up with the truth of God’s word regarding this challenging topic.
I am learning how to stay steadfast in the suffering that my son is experiencing at this time. I am so thankful that I had this book as a resource before this season in my life. I have been able to use it to help minister to others that come into my office, as well as to family members. I’m determined to stay steadfast in this journey and allow God to show me what it is He wants me and my family to learn about Him, while giving Him the glory.
May you be blessed by what you have read, and what is yet to come if you read the entire book, and allow God to use it to expand your relationship with Him.
In His Grace and Service,