It is difficult to have a conversation about suffering. We prefer avoiding such discussions, for fear of hurting someone’s feelings or being accused of being judgmental. In this age where our culture has adopted a secular humanistic view, even in Christianity, whatever someone is “feeling” is good and right and true, and we are not allowed to challenge or question the root of their suffering for fear of invalidating the person’s “experience.” So, rather than risk upsetting someone, we say nothing. However, these excuses can’t withstand the presence of the cross of Christ.
Jesus took suffering and bore it in His flesh, graphically displayed, literally hung out in public for all to see. He didn’t view suffering as something to be avoided, and He didn’t worry about upsetting even those closest to Him with the reality of suffering. It’s as if He said, “Here it is: the consequences of sin displayed in my blood and in wounds on my own body.” No sugar coating there, and certainly no avoidance.
At the same time, Jesus didn’t hide the fact that sin is behind suffering. Suffering is indeed a reality of living in a sin-based world; however, much of how we experience suffering is based on what we believe. Our experience of suffering depends greatly on our interpretation of the suffering. Do we see it as God’s punishment, shameful and deserved? Do we give it tremendous power over us, such that we face it with fear? Do we approach it as a victim, as if our choices are removed? If those responses dictate our view, suffering for us will indeed be a horrible experience.
But what if suffering is simply a warning signal that something is wrong that needs to be addressed? For example, God’s design of our nervous system makes it signal our brains if we have an injury, and that signal takes the form of pain. What if suffering, whether physical or emotional, is our personal warning system to indicate we have something we need to share with Jesus to receive His peace, His presence, and His truth?
Suffering, understanding its purpose, loses its power and subsequent fear, and carries with it no shame, relieving us of the lie-based interpretations and their consequences while providing us with a redemptive response to suffering just as Paul described in Romans 5:2-5 – “we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory. Not only this, but we also rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out[g] in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (NIV).