Suffering is a part of everyone’s life. To be sure there are varying degrees of suffering and some people experience more suffering then others, but if there ever was a common human experience, suffering is it. The Bible is fully aware of this reality and includes many accounts of people who undergo times of difficulty, fear, and pain. Perhaps the most heart wrenching and genuine example of this is found in the book of Job. The book of Job is considered by most scholars to be one of the oldest books in the Bible and deals with many of life’s deepest questions.
Job was a man who had lost almost everything. His children had died, his health had deteriorated, his wealth was lost, and his friends and loved ones eventually lost hope in his suffering. In one of Job’s darkest moments he is so disheartened that he wishes he were never born.
“‘Why, then, did you deliver me from my mother’s womb?
Why didn’t you let me die at birth?
It would be as though I had never existed,
going directly from the womb to the grave.
I have only a few days left, so leave me alone,
that I may have a moment of comfort
before I leave—never to return—
for the land of darkness and utter gloom.
It is a land as dark as midnight,
a land of gloom and confusion,
where even the light is dark as midnight.’”
Just by reading these words we can get a sense of the torment and the pain Job was going through. He feels broken and beaten down. He sees no hope and no comfort. He feels as though his only purpose in life is to suffer. Unfortunately, Job is not the only one who has felt this way. How many of us have found ourselves saying the same things as Job, or have had a loved one who experienced this same all consuming agony? My heart breaks for Job and for everyone whose heart has cried out in this same way.
Although the Bible includes raw examples of suffering it also provides us with hope. The Bible provides us with hope in several ways. It reminds us that we were not created for suffering, God is present through our suffering, and there is an eternal end to suffering.
Although suffering is a human universal, humanity was not created to suffer. We instinctively know this. Many animals appear to experience sadness when they themselves suffer, and in some occasions when they notice animals of their own kind suffer. Humans however experience sadness and perceive injustice. We are appalled when we see someone suffering, even if we have never met them or if they are thousands of miles away. We are tugged by the confident knowledge that, “this is not right” and “this is not how things are supposed to be.” We perceive injustice because in our very being we recognize that suffering is somehow a foreign agent distorting the image of humanity.
Genesis chapter 1-3 paints a picture of humanities purpose and the beginning of human suffering. God created humans separate and unique from the rest of creation. Genesis one tells us that God created humanity in His image, and appointed them to be stewards of His creation. Humanities purpose is not to suffer but to live in loving communion with God, baring and glorifying His image, and caring for the rest of creation. The perfect harmony between God and humanity was shattered in Genesis chapter 3 when Adam and Eve cast aside the warnings and commandments of God by eating fruit from the forbidden tree in the pursuit of pridefully attempting to elevate themselves above God. It is because of this rejection of God’s purpose for humanity that sin entered the world and with it suffering. The purpose of humanity is to live in loving communion with God, baring and glorifying His image, and caring for the rest of creation. The rejection of this purpose leads to the opposite of loving communion, which is suffering. The effects of sin have poisoned all of creation and we see evidence of this in the universality of suffering. Suffering is not what you were made for. You were made to live in a loving relationship with God, fulfilling the purpose you were created for. Being reminded of this does not eliminate suffering, but it offers hope that we have a greater purpose then to suffer. No matter what you are going through. No matter what people tell you. You are not created to suffer. You are created to love and be loved by the Creator of the Universe, and to fulfill the purpose He has in store for you.
We have hope because God is present in our suffering. We see this in a multitude of Biblical promises. Perhaps the most famous of which is found in Jeremiah 29:11, “’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.’” What few people recognize about this verse is that it was given in the midst of intense suffering. God gave these words while Jerusalem was all but destroyed and its residents were carried off into seventy years of captivity and exile. A mistake we frequently make is that we view Bible promises as an assurance that we will not suffer, but as we know suffering comes. God’s words of encouragement and promise are not a false assurance that we will not suffer, but rather a hope that even in the midst of suffering we are not forgotten and we are not hopeless. God has a plan for our lives and, although as long as sin exists suffering will be a reality, God’s plan does not end with our suffering. His plan for us is greater then the pain and hopelessness we may be experiencing. We can be confident that we are not alone in our suffering. Jesus Christ has stepped into our broken world and taken upon Himself all of the sin, suffering and pain of humanity. The fact that Jesus Christ would be slaughtered on the cross, by sinful men, so that we could be freed from sin and have hope in the midst of suffering was prophesied over 500 years before it took place.
“Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.”
Jesus Christ died on the cross to carry our suffering and sin, and as we experience times of darkness we should have confidence and hope that we can rely on Him to carry our burden.
We also have the eternal hope for the ultimate end of suffering. As we previously discussed we were not created to suffer, but all of creation has been made sick with sin and therefore suffering exists. God has not abandoned His creation and in the end all will be restored. Revelation 21 gives us a glimpse of this reality.
“I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.’”
Suffering is a universal experience but it was not always so and will not always be so. My heart breaks for all who, like Job find themselves in the pit of despair. I encourage you to reach out and share your burden with the people around you. Allow your counselor, pastor, friend, or loved one to come along side you and help shoulder the burden. You may feel alone in your suffering but know that the city of those who have suffered is a crowded one. Lastly, but most importantly rest in the hope provided to us by our Creator. You were not created to suffer. You were created for a loving communion with God, and to fulfill His glorious purpose for your life. You are not alone in the midst of suffering. God is present even in the depths of despair. There is an end to suffering. God has taken all the suffering of the world upon Himself and purchased for us an eternal hope.
May the Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you
The Lord turn his face towards you
and give you peace
In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord
Author: Nathan Phillips, Associate Pastor of the River Alliance Church