A question that has plagued the human race for centuries has been, “Why do we have to suffer?”. We scratch and we claw at explanations to make sense of the pain and the suffering we experience.
Often, the way we deal with pain in our world is to avoid it. Think about it. Almost everything that exists in our world is designed to minimize pain. Our cell phones, our furniture, our dinner plates, our vehicles, our insurance plans, our medicine, the list goes on. We live in a world built around the minimization of pain. The normalization of comfort, in many senses, plagues our society. I’m not suggesting that comfort is a bad thing. As Christians, we are told our rest is in Christ. The Sabbath was designed to regulate rest for God’s people and to remind them that rest is fundamental to God’s nature. However, I can’t help but believe that as we grow increasingly wealthy and privileged in the West, we tend increasingly toward fabricating comfort by our own means. We avoid pain at all costs. Though the problem of pain has been mulled over for centuries, I’m convinced that the question is deeper than simply, “Why do we have to suffer?”. I think the real question behind it is, “What is the point of suffering?”. What we’re really hoping is to make sense of the suffering we experience. We want to know that our suffering isn’t a waste of time.
Share in Suffering
As Christians, we are called to suffer. We are told that we should expect it. Whether that suffering looks like being actively persecuted for your faith (people disagreeing with you on Facebook doesn’t count as persecution), losing a loved one, financial loss, or the pain of sinning against other people, Christians aren’t given an out-road from suffering. Jesus suffered severely, and 2 Timothy tells us to “share in suffering” with Christ. It can be tempting to think of sharing in suffering as something we merely “get through”. But Scripture clearly teaches in Philippians 3:8 that knowing Jesus is so valuable we should count everything else as loss. As we suffer in unity with Jesus, we are given joy, hope, and meaning. We are empowered to experience suffering in a life-giving way. Does this mean suffering will feel good or that we should enjoy it? Of course not, but it means that, as a Christian, when you suffer, you suffer as one with hope, meaning, and deep anticipation that when God promises to destroy sin and death, He means it.
His Suffering is Our Suffering; His Victory is Our Victory
2 Timothy 2: 11 teaches that as we die with Christ, we will also live with Him. To suffer in Christ means that our suffering isn’t meaningless and solitary. It is married to the suffering of Christ. The beautiful thing about the gospel is that Christ didn’t stay dead. After the power of sin and death was exhausted in Christ, he conquered the powers of hell by rising from the dead. Therefore, if Christ’s suffering is our suffering, that means His life is our life. In a nutshell, this means that your suffering is never in vain. As a believer, when you suffer, its never a waste of time. Our suffering has an eschatological shape to it. It’s as though we suffer while leaning forward. We lean forward into the new heaven and the new earth where suffering will be a memory, not a present reality. This gives us the ability to suffer with anticipation and with hope. We can expect that one day God will do something about the pain we experience.
Get Out of the Garden and Face the New Jerusalem
The beauty of Christian suffering is that we don’t have to crawl back to the garden of Eden as we suffer. We aren’t called to minimize pain so that we feel like it never existed. We are called to endure through pain. That means there is goodness and purpose within the struggle we feel. Pain is a privilege. As backward and hard to swallow as that may seem, if we go through the experience of suffering in Christ as Christians, our pain is dripping with meaning. Rather than scratching to return to the garden, we can walk forward into the new Jerusalem. In that beautiful reality where heaven and earth fully fuse together and the Already/Not Yet becomes the glorious Right Now, we wont be made to believe that suffering never happened or that suffering was a waste of our time. As God wipes the tears from our eyes with his own nail-pierced hands, we will be made aware of all that God sovereignly used suffering to accomplish. Suffering will make sense and, through it all, Jesus will be worshipped in power and in glory as the Slaughtered Lamb reigning over His Kingdom.