When Suffering Comes

Rob here. Tomorrow is the first day of Lent. It is traditionally a time of repentance and fasting in preparation for remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is an opportunity for us to share in the sufferings of Christ; to die with him. Tomorrow is also the one year anniversary of a deadly earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand. 185 people died, thousands were injured and much of the city still lies in ruins. The aftershocks continue to this day. It will be a sombre occasion.

I’ve been listening to some teaching by John Eldredge on suffering lately (You can download these here) as well as reflecting on his final chapter in Beautiful Outlaw. He writes, “Suffering will try to separate you from Jesus. You must not let it (p.213).” Suffering comes from a variety of sources:

  • Our own foolishness and sin (bad choices, self-indulgence etc)
  • Other people’s foolishness and sin (this is a big one!)
  • Direct attacks from the enemy (see the book of Job for example)
  • The fallenness of the world (death, illness, miscarriages etc)
  • God (always out of love and necessity even if it doesn’t feel like that).

Not all suffering comes from God but all suffering can be redeemed by God. However, the journey can be long and hard. Look at Romans 5:3-4. “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” That sounds great, except for the word perseverance! To save us from undue optimism let’s listen to Eldredge again;

“The worst part of suffering is the damage it can do to your view of God, your relationship with him. Feelings of abandonment creep in: Why did he let this happen? Anger. A loss of hope. Mistrust. Forsakenness. At the very time you need him most, you will feel most compelled to pull away from Jesus, or feel that he has pulled away from you…Be very, very careful and pay attention to how you interpret your suffering. Don’t jump to conclusions. Interpretation is critical. Beware the agreements that you make. This is where the enemy can destroy you. Agreements such as God has abandoned me; it’s my fault; I’ve done something wrong, and a host of others. If you’ve been making these agreements, you will want to break them. They allow a chasm to form between you and your Jesus (p.214).”

In other words, we need to make the choice to suffer with Jesus because Jesus chooses to suffer with us. I remember when we lost a baby to miscarriage and literally feeling teh presence of Jesus in the room as we grieved. It didn’t make things all better! But it did remind us that we didn’t suffer alone. The biggest lie that comes to is in suffering is, “I am alone in this.” No! “Just as the sufferings of Christ flow into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows (2 Corinthians 1:5).” Christ is with you as you suffer. At its best, the body of Christ – the church – is with you as you suffer. We’ve all experienced it and none of us have the answers to it. What we do know is that Jesus also suffered. They were real tears at Lazarus’s tomb; real anguish at Gethsemane; real anger at the temple merchants; real temptation in the desert; real blood at Calvary. He suffers with us. We must suffer with him. As Eldredge says, “Do not lose heart because of your suffering; cling to Jesus (p.215).”

Please pray for the people of Christchurch tomorrow.

 
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