“Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does” (1 Peter 5:8-11 MSG).
As photos begin to emerge of the catastrophic impact of hurricane Dorian on the Bahamas and her people – and as Georgia and North and South Carolina brace for the storm’s arrival – it’s a struggle to find words that won’t in any way minimize the fear, shock and devastation that many thousands are experiencing right now. I assure you that our hearts are crying with you, our prayers are constantly with you, and that God has not abandoned you – and he never will.
It is during times of extreme suffering that God’s grace and mercy are most present. These are the times when he most yearns to comfort us. These are the situations where he most desires to pour the balm of his healing presence into the chaos of our circumstances.
Why does God allow suffering? If God is all-loving and all-powerful, why doesn’t he stop suffering before it starts? Is there any value in our suffering, or are we just random victims of fate? Where is God when we suffer? Can we trust a God who allows so much evil and suffering to exist in the world? Is there any hope?
Dear Friends, one of the things that suffering teaches us is that we are not in control. That can be a bitter pill to swallow and a difficult lesson to learn, but it is an essential component in establishing of our faith.
Hebrews 11:1-3 says “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony.
By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible” (NKJV).
These verses tell us that the same God who formed the heavens and the earth and all that is in them is always working behind the scenes – in ways that for us are invisible. And that our faith is the the evidence that we do know and believe that God – and nothing but God – is in control of the universe and all creation, even though we cannot begin to understand the magnitude of his plan.
Jude, a half-brother of Jesus, encouraged us to build ourselves up in faith by praying in the Holy Spirit (1:20), and the author of Hebrews stated that “… without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (11:6 NKJV).
This world is full of suffering, and the suffering we experience is painful and real. In fact, Paul writes that “… we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering” (Romans 8:22-23a NLT).
God knows that because of the effects of sin in this world, we all experience suffering. And he knows that his entire creation is groaning, like a woman in labor, waiting for the pains to be over – and for the joy of new birth to arrive.
Paul said that after long, considered study, he had come to the conclusion that even though the sufferings that we experience are extreme, he was convinced that the glory that would be revealed in the fullness of God’s plan for us will demonstrate beyond any doubt that it has all been worth it (Romans 8:16-39).
Beloved, God knows who you are, and God knows everything that you’ve suffered. And Almighty God, who stepped down from his throne in heaven to become fully human like each one of us, and who experiences every suffering with us, will not allow one moment of our suffering to be wasted.
“You haven’t received the spirit of slaves that leads you into fear again. Instead, you have received the spirit of God’s adopted children by which we call out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. If we are his children, we are also God’s heirs. If we share in Christ’s suffering in order to share his glory, we are heirs together with him” (Romans 8:15-17 GW).
We share in Christ’s suffering, because he shared in our suffering. His suffering is our suffering, and our suffering is his suffering. That is what he took upon himself when he became not only fully God but also fully human, and bore the punishment for our sin and the pain of ALL our suffering, at the cross.
The prophet Isaiah witnessed this in the spirit when he said that the Suffering Servant who was to come would be a man of sorrows who was acquainted with grief:
“He certainly has taken upon himself our suffering
and carried our sorrows,
but we thought that God had wounded him,
beat him, and punished him.
He was wounded for our rebellious acts.
He was crushed for our sins.
He was punished so that we could have peace,
and we received healing from his wounds” (Isaiah 53:4-5 GW).
Therefore Beloved, whenever we suffer, we can be completely assured that Christ is with us and he will bear our burdens and wipe away every tear from our eyes. Not only in the kingdom that is to come but here now, where the suffering still exists. We are not alone, and although we do suffer, we do not suffer alone. Because Jesus was willing to go beyond all comfort, he is with us and he will comfort us. His assurance in the presence of our suffering is the basis for our faith.
You know the story of bold, brash Peter, who walked on water – for just a minute or two; and who insisted that no matter what happened he would stick with Jesus through thick and thin – only to deny him three times. Friends, I can imagine that Peter’s suffering before the cross was unbearable. But listen to what one of Jesus’ closest disciples says to encourage us in him: “Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world” (1 Peter 4:12-13 NLT).
Scripture tells us that in this world we will experience suffering, but that in our suffering not only are we partners in Christ, but he is partners with us. He is the stronger and we are the weaker partner. Because we understand that we are weak and he is strong, it is important for us to cast our cares onto him and not try and bear the burden of suffering on our own.
Peter said this about our relationship to Christ in suffering, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God [set aside self-righteous pride], so that He may exalt you [to a place of honor in His service] at the appropriate time, casting all your cares [all your anxieties, all your worries, and all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares about you [with deepest affection, and watches over you very carefully]” (1 Peter 5:6-7 AMP).
Beloved, God watches over us very carefully. If you are experiencing any kind of suffering today, please be assured that God is standing by to help.
“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope’” (Jeremiah 29:11 NLT).