Regardless of whether one is a Christian or not, pain, suffering, and trials are a part of life. Whether it is the loss of a loved one, a tragic event, the betrayal of a friend, the loss of a job, a strained marriage, a contested divorce, taken care of your loved one ravaged by cancer, the constant rejection in finding a job, debilitating health, the busyness and stress of life, friction between you and your child, having more bills than money, an onslaught of losses, a deep desire that hasn’t become a reality, being told to wait for something you desperately want, being lonely, being misunderstood, or making a costly mistake—pain, suffering, and trials are very much a reality of life. In short, life is full of wounds.
The existence of pain, suffering, and trials come by way of others, ourselves, and even natural tragedies (natural disasters, sickness, diseaase death). But, irrespective of how the wake of pain, suffering, and trials arrive in our life, we are left trying to understand how to view, cope, and proceed healthily forward. This process of dealing with pain, suffering, and trials is where a Christian’s faith should make a difference. And notice that I stated, “should.” I would contend that our culture’s utopic and entitlement mentality seeps into our understanding of the world, which affects the way we view, cope, and move healthily forward in pain, suffering, and trials. Western culture strives for the perfect world, the perfect life, the perfect job, and the perfect body. Not only does our culture stress this message, it ups the ante by preaching that people are “owed” or entitled to such a life—that every person is entitled to a happy, care-free, struggle-free, and independent life. As a result, when pain, suffering, and trials appear in one’s life—whether it arrives at someone else’s hand, our hand, or mother nature—it disrupts the life they have been told they can have, the life they have been striving to obtain. Therefore, many have a tendency to enter survival and victim mode. In addition, they try to endure, manage, survive, and [even] fight against the wake of the pain, suffering, and trial. As a result, many usually end up defeated, discouraged, depressed, disengaged, disenfranchised, distrusting, and damaged. Some end up angry, bitter, and resentful of God, themselves, someone else, or just life in general. As a result, they tend to view their wounds as the unmerciful torment of life, or possibly the unmerciful torment from God [for the problem of pain and suffering is a major rebuttal by those who would try and disprove or discount God—his plan, his power, and his love].
But, what if there was another way to view, cope, and proceed healthily forward in our pain, suffering, and trials? What if there was a way that was more redemptive, joyful, enriching, and fulfilling? What if there was a way that turned our pain, suffering, and trial into a means to glorify God, to purify us, and a means to benefit others? You may ask, is there such a way? I believe so, for I believe the Bible teaches us about this way.
In short, I believe this is the modus operandi of God. God, in his magnificent power and as the climax of his mission, took the pain, suffering, trials, and brokenness of the world and placed them on Jesus. Jesus joyfully and obediently absorbed the pain, suffering, trial, and brokenness in order to glorify God and bring redemption to the world. Isaiah in describing the suffering servant, expresses,
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. . . . And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him… (Isa 53:5,10 ).
In addition, the author of Hebrews shares that Jesus endured the suffering of the cross joyfully (Heb 12:2). Furthermore, Peter pointedly expressed in 1 Peter 2:24, “By his (Jesus’) wounds you have been healed.” Scripture seems to teach that God’s greatest act of grace, mercy, and redemption came as a result of God experiencing the most intense pain, suffering, and trial. Thus, God’s will to redeem and restore a broken world was to work through pain, suffering, and trial.
So, what if we can begin to view and interpret our pain, suffering, and trials—regardless of how they come in our life—through this scriptural lens? What if we began seeing that God either allows or causes pain, suffering, and trials to come into our life for the manifestation of His glory, for the purification of our hearts, and for the good of others? What if we could see pain, suffering, and trial as God’s gracious breaking in our life where he uses our wounds to glorify himself, to make us more like Jesus, and to bring healing and restoration to others?
So, how is approaching pain, suffering, and trial in this way, in God’s way better? Let me briefly share four reasons why it is better.
First, viewing our pain, suffering, and trial through the scriptural lens provides us with a healthier perspective. Understanding that God allows or even causes pain, suffering, and trial for his glory, our purification, and others’ good is much better than, say, beating ourselves up, not forgiving ourselves, and thereby causing discouragement, depression, and low self-esteem. It is much better than becoming angry, bitter, resentful, revengeful, and feisty when pain, suffering, and trial come to us by way of another. In God’s way, we can love the one who caused us pain—even if we caused ourselves pain. Think about it, we caused great pain, suffering, and trail to God because of our sin, yet in our sin he demonstrated his love by sending Christ (Rom 5:8). In short, God can and wants to shine light in and through our darkest, most painful times. Embracing this perspective drives us to press into the Lord, rather than push away from him.
Second, dealing with our pain, suffering, and trial through the scriptural lens equips us for understanding one of the ways God is at work in us and in the world. In the grand narrative of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, you will not make it very far without encountering God working through some form of pain, suffering, or trial for his glory, his people’s good, and the world’s good. While the Fall (Adam and Eve’s sin) caused pain, suffering, brokenness and trial, God is on mission to reverse the effects of the Fall by absorbing the effects of the Fall. In other words, one of the ways God is working in the world to repair the world is by taking upon himself the pain, suffering, and brokenness of the world. This is magnificently displayed in the cross, where Jesus absorbs the sin—the pain, suffering, and brokenness—of the world in order to provide the way for the world to be healed.
While Jesus’ followers are not called to be the sacrifice for the sin of the world, they are called to share in Jesus’ sufferings. First Peter 2:24, the Scripture passage I referred earlier, is in the context of Christian suffering. Earlier in that passage, Peter notes, “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example so that you might follow in his steps” (2:21). As believers, our healing has come from the wounds, the suffering of Christ. His suffering led to our saving. Peter also notes how Jesus’ suffering is an example that we should follow. Therefore, it would seem biblically and theologically (not to mention practically) logical that Jesus desires to use our pain, suffering, and wounds as a means by which he brings healing to others. This is why Jesus teaches (and models to) his followers to love their enemy, to go two miles instead of one, to minister to those who are hurting along the road, to not spit back when spit upon, to not hold grudges, to not seek revenge, to not draw the sword when wrongfully accused, not grieving as those who have no hope. By absorbing the pain, suffering, and trials of life after the likeness of our Savior and King, God does a work in us by continually conforming us into the image of Jesus and does a work through us in displaying his glory to the world as he uses us to demonstrate the good news of Jesus.
Third, coping with our pain, suffering, and trials through the scriptural lens prevents us from being paralyzed by the affects of our pain, suffering, and trials. We all know how pain, suffering, and trials can take their toil on a person. Maybe a mistake, a betrayal, a loss of a friend, or a bad experience leaves us paralyzed from making another attempt. Maybe our pain, suffering, and trial leaves us in a distrusting state—maybe we don’t want to trust people, or maybe even God. It could be that the loss of a loved one has us mad at God; or a bad church experience has left us disenfranchised with the church and we are afraid to try it again; or a bad marriage has left us skeptical about men or women. But, if we handle our pain, suffering, and trial through the lens of Scripture—understanding that God wants to work in and through our pain—we can become more prudent rather than paralyzed when it comes to moving forward. In short, if we are not careful—depending on how we cope with our pain, suffering, and trial—we can actually rob ourselves from future joy and victory by being paralyzed in our present pain and discouragement.
Fourth, moving healthily forward in our pain, suffering, and trials through the lens of Scripture instills in us a hopeful posture as we anticipate the future time when Christ fully restores our lives and creation. In other words, because we know that God— through Jesus’ suffering, sacrifice, and resurrection—has inaugurated his kingdom at Jesus’ first coming and has promised to consummate his kingdom at some point in the future at Jesus’ second coming, we understand that our pain, suffering, and trials here on earth are only temporary. We understand there is coming a day when “He will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:4).
In closing, viewing, coping, and moving healthily forward in our pain, suffering, and trials through the lens of Scripture is a much better way than say trying to survive, manage, and fight them, which can leave us with even more wounds. If you are in a season of pain, suffering, and trial, know that it is not by human accident but by divine appointment. Know that God wants to work in and through your pain for his glory— as he conforms you into the image of Jesus for the good and benefit of the world. In fact, I love what Gene Edwards, in A Tale of Three Kings, states, “God—want[s] very much to have—men and women who would live in pain. God want[s] a broken vessel.” God desires to take men and women to the school of pain and suffering to produce brokenness to get them to the most vulnerable point where he can take them and lift them high as a banner of his great grace for his great glory among the nations. However, very few desire to enroll, or once they enroll become brokenly bitter resenting the gracious breaking from God. But, what if we understood that our pain, suffering, and trial is the gracious breaking from God in our life, where he takes our wounds and glorifies himself by purifying us and conforming us more into the image of Jesus and by bringing healing to others. As Paul writes,
But we have this treasure (the gospel) in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies (2 Cor 4:7–10).
Talk about a different way to view, cope, and move healthily forward in our pain, suffering, and trial!