Heavy Hearts: A Christian Response to Suffering – Part 3

It’s easy, when speaking of how things went wrong in the world, to mistakenly believe that God was somehow surprised by these events. Since God is all-knowing, this can’t be an accurate understanding. While God chose to give humanity free will, and while it was (and is) his desire for us to willingly choose him, God knew both the ailment and remedy before he even spoke the world into existence. So, when we speak of redemption, it is not some sort of back-up plan, as if God has lost control of the earth, but rather a specifically appointed occasion in God’s long-range timeline. It’s with this in mind that we turn the page to the final chapter in this series on suffering.

Obviously no one wants to suffer. The crushing weight of painful experiences, loss and brokenness, whether physical, emotional or both, can make it difficult to breathe. Sometimes even watching these situations unfold from afar, as a fellow human in this story, can produce an overwhelming despair or fear. Discussing the idea of redemption is not to mitigate or make light of suffering in any way, but rather to offer hope to the heart that is ready to receive it. And, while time for God’s final redemption has not yet come, there is still a flickering amount promise to be found once the darkest hours of the night have passed.

Suffering, though difficult and unwanted, can serve a variety of purposes in our lives.[1] Although, in a culture of pleasure seeking, seeking God’s purpose is often a foreign and difficult path to follow, and accepting that there can be purpose in pain, is at times, seemingly impossible. It’s my hope that this discussion will challenge us to accept a more complete Gospel than is often presented, one that includes the tribulations that Jesus mentions and that so many of his followers experienced. It’s also my prayer, as someone who has weathered this journey, that others who have suffered, or who are suffering, will be comforted in the difficult truth that while the pain is not a good thing, God can bring good from it. It does not have to forever remain as empty and pointless as it may feel.               

In fact, suffering can provide an opportunity for God’s power to work in our lives. The scene with the blind man in the Gospel of John is the perfect example of this.[2] The fact that this man needed to be healed created the canvas to display Jesus’ power and to bring glory to the name of God. The New Testament is filled with similar stories. We may prefer to be comfortable and blessed, but the very purpose for which we were created is to glorify God, and suffering often provides that opportunity.

This is certainly demonstrated in the life of Paul. We may not know specifically what the thorns in his life were, but we do know he believed they served a purpose, and the same is true for us. Suffering keeps us in humble reliance on God and prevents pride and boasting.[3] Theologian John Feinberg points out that, “When things go smoothly in life, we tend to feel self-sufficient. Affliction reminds us that we aren’t and that we must rely on God.”[4] It also reminds us that we are part of The Body of Christ. When we experience periods of pain and need, it shows us how much we need others. When we see those who are suffering, it allows the family of God to love and serve as a testimony to believers and unbelievers alike. Caring for those who suffer has always been a sign to the world of what it means to be a Christian.

Suffering itself is something not unfamiliar to Christianity or Christ himself. Was he not, after all, the suffering servant?[5] Perhaps we’re so familiar with the idea of the cross that we forget the depth of anguish experienced in the garden. Perhaps, grace has become such a cheap commodity in the modern church that we have reduced the cost of Christ’s crucifixion. And perhaps, just perhaps, if we were to truly and deeply understand this suffering, we may resent less the occasions when we are given opportunity to share in our Lord’s example.

This is difficult, I know, but there is nothing in this life that brings about spiritual maturity like suffering. Nothing prunes our character as effectively as pain. But the taste of this kingdom fruit is not one easily acquired. Thankfully, it’s a crop produced only in this world, and those who know Christ, will live eternally in another where there is no such sour seed to sew.[6]

That thought brings our final point to the foreground. There will come a day when evil will be vanquished forever and our suffering will be redeemed. Living as flesh and blood on the earth often makes the thought of Heaven seem intangible.[7] The Christian, however, needs to have a correct perspective. Heaven is not an afterthought to the Christian life; Heaven is what Christianity is all about. While God gives us strength for our journey here, dear friends, our best life is not now, it is still to come.

Reading through the final pages of Revelation makes it clear how eternity will diminish our suffering on earth.[8] It will finally be a return to God’s original intention for us, and it will be that way forever. God will have the final say in this story, and there will be no tears or suffering or pain. We will live endlessly with our Savior, having persevered and remained faithful! I think the words of that old, sweet hymn might just say it best, “the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.”[9]


Final note – This series of posts has attempted to be sensitive to the reality of suffering, while also demonstrating that the Christian worldview provides a logical and consistent answer to the problem of evil. It’s important to understand though, that there is a time and place for the academic answer, and that time is usually not when people are in the midst of painful situations. When you are with someone grieving, grieve with them. Pray and be a present help and support, but also be sensitive to their situation. Remember to only offer the answer, when someone has first asked the question.


[1] The following paragraphs discussing how suffering can serve a purpose in this life are from John Fienberg’s book, The Many Faces of Evil.
[2] John 9
[3] 2 Corinthians 12:7
[4] Many Faces of Evil, 479.
[5] Isaiah 52-53
[6] John 16:33
[7] Notes from Professor Clay Jones’s class on the Problem of Evil. Check his writings at clayjones.net
[8] Revelation 21-22
[9] Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus, Helen H. Lemmel, 1922

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