I think I know something about suffering, but of course, my suffering isn’t your suffering. I get that. When my wife died last summer, after an eight month battle with stomach cancer, someone told me that 98% of those who live in the Senior Housing understand what I was going through. Of course, that is true, almost scarily true, but they aren’t me and they haven’t gone thought what I’ve gone through. They don’t really understand. They aren’t me, they didn’t have Eileen, they didn’t live in my shoes and in her shoes.
Maybe I don’t know anything about suffering, or suffering well. Maybe the fact that my wife died last summer meant nothing and perhaps I didn’t learn anything from it. Or maybe I do know something about suffering…
Here is a little bit about what I think I know about suffering. God knows about our suffering. The Bible tells us that God heard the cries of his people in Exodus 1:24, and he remembered is covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. “And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God acknowledged them.” (Exodus 2:25). This theme is played out over and over again, throughout Scripture. God knows his people and he knows when they are suffering. He cares about their suffering. And, he comes to them in their suffering.
God saw me suffering and he came to me in a thousand different ways. The main way was that he maintained my joy in knowing him. He kept my wife worshiping and chipper until the end. As far as I know her last words were, “Oh, no, thank you.” She said this to a friend who had come and read the Bible and sang to her. Even in her dying, she was blessing others because God lived in her and she lived to please him, in everything. And that blessed me and it showed God’s presence in my life as he showed himself in her life—to the end.
I believe this same thing happens to all of God’s people who suffer. It doesn’t matter the kind of suffering. I was listening to a talk by Joni Tada last week, at the CCEF annual conference, where she talked about all the amazing kinds of suffering she has gone through in her life (quadriplegia, cancer, pains, surgeries, wheel chair complications, etc). And in everything, God has come to her and lifted her up and brought her near to himself. Is it easy? Not a bit. She described her battle with cancer as “splashes of Hell.” And she said, she finds splashes of heaven, the presence of Jesus, in her splashes of Hell. She said there is “nothing sweeter than finding Jesus in your splashes of Hell.” God came to her and lives with her in her suffering.
As I reflected on her talk it occurred to me that there isn’t one person in the Bible who isn’t suffering. Some people have times of good, smooth sailing, but that situation is always the exception to the rule. No one, in the Bible has an easy time. Then, in history and in other nations even in our day, people suffer incredible things. We in America are incredibly spoiled with regard to suffering. We think hardship strange, but most of the rest of the world suffers as a normal part of life.
Of course in these kinds of talks, the speaker eventually leaves their biographical conversation and moves on into their teaching talk, and Joni said something that I think is supremely important for people who suffer. She said, we need to take responsibility in our suffering. We don’t take responsibility for our suffering, but until we take responsibility in our suffering, our suffering will be interminable and we won’t feel the presence of God.
One of the things I take away from this is, when we blame others for the situation we are in, we cannot move on in our walk with God. When we are hurt, angry, resentful, bitter because of what someone else did to us, or what we think someone else did to us, we can’t move on and receive his comfort.
This is not at all to say that what brought you to this place did not happen, or that the person who molested you when you were a little girl shouldn’t be taken out and stoned (or worse), he should. But what it means is that until you give him over to God to deal with (maybe through the civil authorities, maybe through divine judgement), you can never be restored.
We may not be able to do anything about history, but we can do something about how we are living, thinking, feeling, and acting in the present. We can take responsibility for ourselves right now in our suffering.
I’m not saying that she was not molested, raped, beat up, and crushed. She was. And it was reprehensible. The abuser has sinned against us, but if we stay angry, etc. we are now sinning against the Holy God who said, “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). If you have been victimized, if you are suffering because of someone else’s sin, if you are suffering and you are angry with God, give it to God. Let him deal with it. She needs to come to the place where she believes God and can give the enemy to him. And if she has sinned, either in the event, or in thinking about the event, she needs to confess, acknowledge it, admit it, give it to Jesus, and let his forgiving grace, cleanse her from the inside out.
Some say, you aren’t dealing with the sufferer because all you are talking about is confessing sin. But here’s the deal: “… your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear” (Is. 59:2). But if there is sin between us and God, he cannot hear us, he cannot come near to us, he cannot give us peace. “Your sins have hidden his face from you.”
Comfort and healing come from God. It can only come from God. This is because God made us and he loves us with an infinite love. The bible tells us that he rejoices over us with joy (Zeph. 3:17) and he weeps over us with sorrow, when we suffer (Jn. 11:35). It also says that if we come to him, he will draw near to us (Jas 4:8). And this is what we desperately need to the restore our soul and to give us joy.
The person, or people, who molested you may never acknowledge that they sinned against you. They may die before they do. Nevertheless, it doesn’t matter, because you have already given them to God to deal with. And as I noted above, God is faithful, and he will do it. In the passage in Romans 12, after saying that we need to give our enemies to God to deal with he says “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head” (Rom. 12:20–21). Jesus said, “I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5:44). How does loving our enemies pour burning coals on their head? I think it is because they are expecting you to be mean and nasty to them, but you aren’t acting the way they expect. It really irritates people when you are being joyful and they are being mean and nasty. And, this is most important, by obeying God, you are taking yourself out of the way so that the vengeance of God can be poured out on them.
Let me give a short outline of what I think needs to happen to minister to those who suffer.
- The immediate physical needs need to be taken care of. If she has been beaten up, she needs to go to the hospital, she should be taken to the hospital—and visited, and comforted, and cared for. If she simply needs someone to talk to her, a godly woman who can love her well (or several), should come alongside and give her words of encouragement and godliness. She should represent Christ to the suffering woman. This should go on until this need is no long existent.
This also includes helping her deal with the police, her father, her ex-husband, mortuary folks, and any other kind of physical things she needs (place to stay, car to borrow, etc.).
- She needs to be comforted, first in the moment, then in the Lord. People need to come near to her, but then she needs to draw near to Christ. I can’t say this strongly enough, there is no comfort for victims who will not come to Christ. There is no restoration, no alleviation of shame, or guilt, or anything else until she comes to Christ—and comes with her whole heart, mind, soul, and strength.
- Her life needs to be put back together, or put together for the first time. We live in a world where people, including those who claim to know God, live as if God does not exist. I call it being edgy. I’ve heard others call is “sketchy.” It is when people want the appearance of being Christians, but also want to live as close to being non-Christians as they can. People need to be called to holiness, absolute holiness. What this means in the restoration section is that if they were living the edgy life before and they were partially responsible for the situation the found themselves in, they need to leave that lifestyle and turn to Jesus.
For example, suppose a young man goes out on the town with two of his friends. They visit a few bars and one of the friends drinks more than he should. Suppose, as they are going from one bar to another, the drunk friend runs ahead and they see him duck down a dark road and into a seamy, dimly lit door, and disappear. Suppose the two friends wait outside for a few minutes and when their friend doesn’t come out, the larger of the two go in leaving the original young man alone on the street. And finally, the original young man goes in after the other two and just as he goes through the door, three pugs jump him, and take all his money.
Okay, he is broke, beat up, embarrassed, shame filled, and feeling a bit guilty for getting into the mess in the first place. How do we help him? We fix up his wounds, help him to see if there was any sin in the event and confess it if there was, and we help him to figure out how to not get into this kind of mess in the future. You’ll notice that all this took place in one sentence. In actual life, it may take months or if the situation is bad enough, years. It is a process, sometimes a long process.
I think the easiest and most obvious way to avoid getting into this mess in the first place would have been to not go steaming with his friends in the first place. He was trying to be worldly and Christian at the same time. He didn’t get drunk, but he did hang with those who do. He broke the command of God by being worldly and we all know “that friendship with the world is enmity with God” (Jas.4:4).
To be completely restored to life, our friend needs to be patched up physically, spiritually, and behaviorally. He needs to heal physically, spiritually, and his life needs to change.
In the end, healing will look like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22–23).
So back to me for a moment. I might not know anything about suffering, but I know Jesus. And to be quite frank, I don’t care much what others think of me. What I care about is that I am pleasing the one who gave his life for me, and I strive with every fiber of my being to give him glory. When we give him glory, he gives us glory (Rom. 8:30). His face shines on us and gives us peace and that is what I want for everyone who comes through my door (2 Thess 3:16).