Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake, we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
Life is hard. People die, our bodies break down, hurricanes ravage our homes, friends betray us, and nations war against one another. It is just how it is. Suffering is a part of human existence ever since The Fall, and it will be until Jesus returns to make all things new.
There are two possible responses to suffering: crush or be crushed. The normal response is to be crushed by suffering, to lament over your misfortune and shake your fist at the heavens. When we are crushed by our suffering, we are defined by it. We form our identity around that which hurts us, and so we call ourselves cancer survivors, recovering addicts, or victims. We inhale the suffering and allow it to enter our hearts. When we allow ourselves to be crushed by suffering, we allow a wedge to be driven between us and God.
It need not be this way.
Christians suffer at least as much as non-believers. Becoming a Christian does not in any way guarantee you’ll live your best life now. So yeah, we’ll suffer. And when we do, because of our inheritance in Christ and because of the Spirit living within us, we can crush the suffering.
Now if I were you I’d be rolling my eyes right now. To crush our suffering sounds great, but it’s not realistic. So let me clarify before we move on. To crush our suffering does not mean we don’t feel it. It doesn’t mean that chemo doesn’t make you feel like each day is a new death or that losing a child doesn’t cause a heavyweight of despair. No, suffering is suffering and it’s rough.
The reason Christians can crush suffering is because suffering doesn’t get the last say. There is a hope we cling to because of what Jesus has done that puts pain into perspective. We are saved, redeemed, and adopted. An eternal inheritance awaits us on the other side of suffering. This short and sometimes painful life is merely the prelude to our story, and thus our suffering, when put in perspective, is rather small.
Further, our suffering can be seen as an unexpected gift. You see, when we live comfy and easy lives, we are blind to reality. The reality of this world is that evil exists, we’re sinful, and bad stuff happens. When bad stuff happens, our eyes are open to reality and even though it might be dark, in these hard times are when the light is most apparent. Turn on a lamp in a bright room and you get more brightness, but turn on a lamp in a pitch black room and it’ll make you shield your eyes. God shows up big in these hard times, and though there is much pain, the presence of the Lord is totally worth it.
We must understand God’s heart in our suffering. He does not send arbitrary hardships to see how we’ll react. He does not deal with a heavy hand. No, because those in Christ are adopted sons and daughters if we are in the midst of suffering we are still within the loving arms of our Father. He means well for us and, as Paul explains in Romans 8:28, all things work together for the good of those who love God. Our sufferings are redemptive, and because of God’s mysterious power, the very things which should destroy us can become vehicles for blessing.