A Few Thoughts on Suffering
What do we do in the face of suffering? Where do we turn for solace, for comfort? How do we handle mind-numbing grief, avoid the depths of disillusionment, or the sense of shell-shock over the loss of a dear loved one? In the face of severe suffering, or overwhelming circumstances or trials, how do we cope, where do we turn? Do we turn to drugs or alcohol, or other empty “remedies?” Do we turn from God or to God? Perhaps the most common question we all ask in difficult times is, “Why me?” or just, “Why God, why?” More than likely, we will not be able to answer the last two questions for you. But, we would nonetheless like to share some thoughts with you about suffering.
In the presence of paralyzing pain, the sense of devastating and debilitating loss and shock, or feeling like being hit in our emotional and spiritual stomach and having the wind knocked out of us, we can find comfort, even peace, even hope.
First, we want to encourage you, or encourage you to tell other Christians, that it is okay to grieve your loss. Whether it is the loss of your job, your reputation, a close friend, or even the death of a dearly loved family member, it is okay, it is emotionally and spiritually healthy, it is good, to grieve the loss. We grieve. We can and should grieve, yet not as non-Christians grieve. They grieve because they have no hope, no assurance that their loss will be made right by God in the light of eternity (1 Thess. 4:13). Christians experience great losses too, but we should not lose hope—hope in God that He will in this life, and, or, the afterlife, work all things for our good, set wrongs right, or reunite us with our loved ones. Our hope is not a vague or blind optimism, or just “a positive mental attitude.” On the contrary, as the Greek word (elpis) in the New Testament means, it is a confident, well-founded expectation. God will, in the end, redeem our loss. God will, in His time, make all things right (see, e.g., Rev. 21:3-5).
Additionally, it is healthy to miss our loved ones who have died. That is, often, besides the sense of shock at their loss, we greatly miss them and their physical presence in our lives. This is completely understandable and normal. However, there are some ideas that we often have that, for the Christian, are unhelpful and incorrect according to God’s Word.
Second, we would like to address what we see as some common misconceptions. For example, why do we think that this life, this present world is the best of all possible worlds? Why do we think that when our loved ones die, they are “missing out” or that their life has been necessarily “cut short”? Why do we think that this life is the only one that counts? From God’s perspective, from His eternal perspective, is this true? Do we know, do we believe that our loved ones are in the very presence of God (2 Cor. 5:1-8; Phil. 1:21-23)? Do we believe that this world is not our ultimate home (Heb. 11:13-16)? Death indeed is our last enemy, but Christ has conquered it, and now death is the doorway for us to enter into the very presence of God (1 Cor. 15:26-28, 51-58; Heb. 2:14-15). Also, why do we see heaven as some type of “consolation prize” for those who do not get to remain in this present life or world? This is not the biblical view (please see the above-referenced passages). Furthermore, we often assume that if our loved ones were given the choice of whether to remain in heaven with God or come back to this life, of course, they would choose to return to this life. Is that really true? Is it better to be here than in the resplendent presence of God? We might want to rethink these ideas.
Another misconception is we often think that to comfort those suffering loss, we have to have the “right thing” to say, the “right words,” or have something profound to share. Janet and I do not think this is true. Often there is no “right thing” to say. What matters is that you are present, that you show your concern by being available. Simply being present, a simple hug, or, “We love you,” “We are here for you,” “Our hearts are broken too,” or, “Let us know if we can help in any way,” are more than enough to say. Indeed, sometimes the “best” thing to say is nothing. Just being present, and at times, being silent are the best words you can “speak.”
Third, on the other hand, please do pray for those who have suffered loss and do not feel sorry for not having the “right“ words to share. Sometimes people think they have to apologize for not knowing what to say. They often say something like, “All I can do is pray.” There is no need to apologize here. Praying for the one suffering is all, that is, everything and more, that you can do for your suffering friend! God “invented” prayer. He is the one who tells us to pray (see, e.g., Eph. 6:18; 1 Thess. 5:17). God answers the prayers He tells us to pray (1 John 5:14-15)! Janet and I firmly believe that much of the peace and calmness we have had through the devastating ordeal of the death of our son, Daniel, and his two best friends, Drake and Jacob, has been given to us in large part because of the faithful prayers of all our friends and family, and people that we do not even know at this time. God is faithful, and He tells us to faithfully pray for others. He powerfully answers those prayers. Again, no need to apologize; your prayers mean everything to the one who is suffering!
Lastly, in our suffering and grief, we can at times “feel“ all alone or abandoned. But, this is not true. God is ever-present with us, even in our times of greatest grief and loss (Ps. 23:4; Heb. 13:5b). Indeed, no matter what valley we may have to walk through, God is walking with us and will see us through the journey. He will graciously give us His compassion and mercy (see, e.g., Lam. 3:31-33; Heb. 4:16; James 5:10-11). God is gracious. He is good. He is always present in our lives no matter what we experience. He will exploit evil or whatever trials we suffer. He will work or use them for our ultimate good. He will personally and powerfully see us through our sufferings (Rom. 8:28). We can trust Him. He is overseeing all of life. He loves us with infinite love and can, and will, see us victorious through this life (Rev. 19:6). We would like to end our thoughts in this paragraph with the following wonderful verses: “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (NIV, Lam. 3:22-23) Amen!
So, let us prayerfully rethink our thoughts about loss, even the loss of our loved ones in this life. That is, let us try to conform our thoughts about these most important matters to God’s thoughts, His counsel, His eternal perspective (Isa. 55:8-9; 2 Cor. 10:5). We will experience greater clarity, perspective, and peace as we seek to appropriate “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:9-16).