The final part of my suffering series is now upon me, and I have been meditating all day about what to say. Sometimes we as Christians, as our Pharisee forebears that came before us, judge others on account of their suffering. We look at those less well off than us and judge that they have done something to deserve their lot in life. We consider the plights of those around us to be centered in their own sins. Indeed, the Pharisees believed that calamity was a sure sign of sinfulness in the life of the victim. If they suffered such tragedy, surely there was a reason. Perhaps it was this same belief that led John to ask the Lord whether the blind man or his parents had sinned to cause his blindness in John 9.
What does Jesus say about the root of suffering? Does Jesus indeed affirm this belief? I would lead you to a passage in Luke where the LORD is addressing a group of people who had just brought Him word about some Galilaeans who were killed by Roman soldiers in the midst of offering their sacrifices:
There were present at that season some that told Him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, “Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. (Luke 13:1-3, KJV)”
Did you catch that? I think that is about as succinct an answer as we can expect. Did those Galilaeans die at the altar of the temple because of their evil? No. Okay. There. Jesus had a point to what He said to the listening crowd, and the point was this: Repent. Pure and simple. Our suffering, our pain, and ultimately our end is irrelevant. What is relevant is whether or not we see our need for a savior and accept Him. Ultimately, all injustice will be set right, paradise will be reestablished here on earth, and we will all stand in the presence of the LORD. Our suffering will be long forgotten.
Our suffering is not always based in our sinfulness. Yes, there are prices to pay for some of the things we have done, but calamity is not rooted in our sinfulness. Sometimes tragedy and suffering may have absolutely no connection to anything we do. Let us consider Job:
“There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil. (Job 1:1 KJV)”
Job was blameless and upright. He served as the priest of his home. God bragged about Job’s faithfulness to Satan. However, a few chapters later, God had taken away everything that Job had at the behest of Satan. His friends came over to hang out, and instead of making things better, they rubbed Job’s face in his pain. It was his fault, they said. He had some kind of hidden sin that needed to be confessed. Job held steadfastly to his innocence despite his friends. What do you think happened next?
To put it lightly, Job experienced the divine. To more realistically phrase it, Job and his friends got an earful of God as He explained that neither Job nor his friends could understand why Job had suffered so. In the end, Job is repentant of his attitude, his friends are left tattered, and Job is left to say
“I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42:5-6, KJV)”
In the end, Job never got an explanation for why he suffered so much. He was blessed by God to the point where he had more than he had lost, but the one thing he never got was an answer. In truth, he came to the point where he didn’t need one. He saw the Lord. That was enough. Earlier in the book, Job stated that he knew his redeemer lived. Now he had seen his redeemer. The suffering was no longer an issue to Job because he had seen the face of the Lord.
Maybe you are suffering right now. Maybe the pain is unfair. Maybe, like Job, you are even at the mercy of those who claim friendship and all the while stick you with barbs of accusations and betrayal. If you are there, know this: no matter how we look at suffering, no matter how much I try to say or how much you glean from elsewhere, you will never answer the question of suffering fully. However, there will be a day when we meet our redeemer. One day, every tear will be wiped away, every pain stifled, and then, only then, will we fully understand why we went through the pains and tragedies of earth. Until then, I propose that we draw closer to our Creator. In Him do we find purpose, a balm for the aches and pains of life here on earth, where the whole of creation is yearning for redemption. In Jesus will we find that our suffering, though we may never know this side of heaven why we did, was a defining moment in our lives that placed us on a path of obedience to His word.
If you are at a place in life where troubles seem behind you, I offer some advice. One, watch out. We are not done with suffering until eternity. There will come a time when you are on the receiving end of pain and hurt. Second, if there is someone around you in pain, reach out to them. Comfort them. Let them know their heart is precious to you, and let them use your shoulder as a place to rest and gather strength.
“Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted (Matthew 5:4, NKJV).”