“Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18, NLT).
The biggest unanswered questions in life revolve around suffering: why do bad things happen to good people? Why is life so full of misery? Why doesn’t God do something? Where is he when we need him? If he’s so powerful and all-knowing, why doesn’t he prevent the tragedies that daily plague us? Some try to make sense of it all by going so far as to say God is either teaching us lessons or punishing us, but these statements aren’t real answers and offer no comfort.
I don’t have answers either, but what I do know is Jesus understands. He came as a human to enter into our suffering. He experienced all the bad things we have to endure, but no doubt on a deeper level. Because he was both human and God at the same time he suffered with us and for us for all time, from the beginning of human history all the way to whenever it ends. Our suffering is his—he owned it and owns it still.
God didn’t promise us a fairy land where bad things never happen and nothing hurts, but he did promise and deliver the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, who helps us through the pain and reminds us this life isn’t all there is. One day our suffering will end and he will give us the answers, but for now he has left us with his peace, which we can have even through our pain and struggles.
“So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation” (1 Peter 5:10b, NLT).
Suffering is a part of life we’d rather do without, but unfortunately, like death and taxes, it’s here to stay. Two famous stories of suffering and loss are those of Job and Joseph. Job woke up one fine morning, thinking it was going to be another beautiful day, only to receive one crushing blow after another, learning his family and everything he owned was wiped out. Joseph was ripped from everything he knew and loved, sold into slavery, falsely accused and put in jail. Both were sent reeling: unexpectedly and inexplicably devastated.
We know the end of their stories: everything was restored to them and then some, happy endings all around. That doesn’t happen in real life. Most of the time it seems we suffer loss and that’s it. But what God restored to Job and Joseph gives us a glimpse into the heart of God. He knows what we suffer, he feels our losses and he will make right all the wrongs we’ve experienced. No, probably not in this life, but that’s the hope we have in Jesus: life after death, joy after mourning, peace after war, strength after weakness and restoration after loss. We will not be left desolate when our strength and hope is in him.
“Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested” (Hebrews 2:18, NLT).
I’ve stated many times here how we need to be careful not to anthropomorphize God—to ascribe human thoughts, feelings or characteristics to him, to make him like us. But it’s also important to realize that when God came to earth as a human being, he did become just like us. He was still God, which is hard to wrap our minds around and presents us with a bit of a challenge when trying to know and understand God. He will always be a mystery in many ways and that’s a good thing.
One way he became like us was in his suffering. Jesus experienced all the pain and anguish this world has to offer, including a horrendous death on a cross. He entered into our suffering and let it enter him. Because he was willing to become a human in every way, he can understand and relate to our pain and even feel it with us—and help us through it.