How we want life to be and what it actually is are two very different things. There’s something within us that longs for everything to run smoothly and comfortably. And we may have moments or even seasons like this, but eventually, we’ll encounter situations that cause pain, despair, and difficulty. Suffering in life is inescapable, but our response is a choice.
Where do you turn in times like these? There are many options, but I have discovered that the only reliable place is God’s Word. Scripture—His guidebook for living—shows us how to respond to every circumstance. It is the only truly sufficient resource for whatever need we face. Of all the characters in the Bible, there is just one who never sinned: Jesus always acted according to the Father’s will, even when the result would be great pain. By examining how our Savior handled suffering, we’ll gain a greater understanding of the way we should respond.
The Reason for Suffering
One of the first lessons we learn from Jesus’ journey to the cross has to do with the reason for pain and affliction. Throughout the ages, people have struggled with this question, but Christ’s suffering shows us why this is a constant reality in the world.
We must remember that everyone suffers because of sin. Transgression originated in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve disobeyed God. From that point onward, the earth has been under a curse, and human beings have all been born with a sin nature. That’s why we have diseases, death, natural disasters, accidents, violence, and hardships of all kinds. The intensity of Christ’s suffering on the cross proves the severity and extent of what’s wrong in the world and in people. We tend to think only of the excruciating pain of crucifixion, but the greatest agony for Jesus was not physical. When He hung on the cross, the sin of all mankind was placed upon Him as He bore God’s wrath (1 Peter 2:24). We can’t begin to imagine such suffering. The sin placed on Christ was so great that the Father turned away from Him—for the first time and only time, God the Father and God the Son were separated (Matt. 27:46). Truly, no one has ever suffered as Jesus did. But that’s what was required to reconcile fallen mankind to God.
The Benefits of Suffering
Though no one enjoys suffering, God uses it to instruct us. There are some lessons we cannot learn any other way—things about the Lord, ourselves, and other people. Afflictions are also purifying. They cause us to examine ourselves and see attitudes, thoughts, or sins that God wants to remove so we can be fully used by Him. Pain and trouble are also very motivational. Sometimes they’re the only way the Lord can prompt us to obey. Like a loving parent, He knows that discipline and correction are necessary for our spiritual growth. Suffering also strips away distractions that hinder us from developing a deeper relationship with the Lord. When all these things are removed, we come to the Father empty-handed and discover an intimacy with Him that we’d never have known apart from pain.
Truly, no one has ever suffered as Jesus did. But that’s what was required to reconcile fallen mankind to God.
The Responses to Suffering
As long as we remain on this earth, there will be pain and trouble. Like Jesus, we will have dark nights in our Gethsemanes, but Christ left us an example of how to respond when God’s will includes more pain than we think we can bear (Matt. 26:36-46).
In times of suffering, we may struggle in prayer. When the dread of what awaited Him fell on Jesus that night, He immediately turned to His Father. His agony was not caused by an unwillingness to carry out God’s purpose—dying on the cross was the reason He’d come to earth. What Jesus dreaded was separation from His Father. That’s why He prayed, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me” (Matt. 26:39).
Unlike Christ’s struggles, ours often involve reluctance to obey God’s will or uncertainty about what He’s doing. When the pain is so intense, all we want is relief. But even though we keep asking for deliverance, He at times remains silent and nothing changes. Although it seems as if He doesn’t care, the Lord is demonstrating His love by using our pain to instruct us, purify our hearts, motivate obedience, and deepen our relationship with Him. He will answer our prayers, but only in His time and way. In the meantime, He will give us comfort and strength, just as He did for Jesus in Gethsemane.
Although it seems as if He doesn’t care, the Lord is demonstrating His love by using our pain to deepen our relationship with Him.
The struggle will end only when we yield to the Lord. Jesus went to His Father three times, asking if there was another way to accomplish mankind’s redemption; however, each time He ended His request with these words: “Yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39). By the third time, He knew that this was the only way. That’s when the struggle ended, and His resolve to carry out the Father’s will grew strong—an attitude Isaiah foresaw: “For the Lord God helps Me, therefore, I am not disgraced; therefore, I have set My face like flint, and I know that I will not be ashamed” (Isa. 50:7).
I can’t remember how many times I’ve gotten out of bed in the middle of the night, fallen to my knees, and cried out to God. But I do know when the struggle ends—when I finally say, “Lord, I surrender. I want Your desire more than my own.” My circumstances haven’t changed, the pain still remains, but submission to the Lord has given me the strength and confidence to abide under whatever circumstance He’s allowed.
We cannot escape pain and adversity, but we can choose how to respond to it. If we become angry or bitter, blame others, try to manipulate our way out of the situation, or resist God, our suffering will be in vain. But the Lord wants us to trust Him in the midst of our anguish. When we yield to His will, knowing that He is using it to achieve something great in our lives, He will give us the grace to endure and grow in Christlikeness.