Today we explore suffering. Jesus was called the Man of Sorrow and also known as one Familiar with Suffering. It was even foretold in Isaiah 53 that he would be despised, rejected, not esteemed. He would suffer. GREATLY. God perfectly designed Jesus to be fully human and experience all the highs and lows of the physical life. Some of those lows are recounted in John 11:35 when Jesus wept over his friend Lazarus’ death, and in Luke 19:41 when he wept over the city of Jerusalem. A vivid moment of sorrow is in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus is disappointed that the disciples couldn’t stay awake, all the while he is praying and asking his Father to “take the cup from me” if it be His will. He knew the suffering that was going to begin, and he reveals his human emotions, completely aware of what the cross would entail.
Jesus, being fully God, also knew that Lazarus would come back to life, yet he still wept. He also knew the victory he would have over death, defeating the grave, yet he was still sorrowful and troubled. I love how God revealed his heart to us, showing us the full range of emotion. We are created in his image and the sorrow we experience is real.
Jesus’ death on the cross was the ultimate physical suffering, and then he experienced the greatest spiritual suffering when he took on the sins of the entire world and was separated from his Father. He did this for us – so we could be with him forever. Our sin separated him from the Father, and Jesus experienced the loss (Mark 15:34).
Nothing in my life comes close to that level of suffering. It’s hard to even call my experiences “suffering” when thinking of the true suffering that Jesus endured.
When I reflect on the more difficult seasons in my life, even now in hindsight, I have to admit that I wouldn’t choose them. While I have complete faith that God’s perfect will prevails and He will use any suffering I have experienced, I can’t say I’m to the point where I count it all joy, or even pray for tribulations and suffering. I’m so inspired by those that do, and face it so bravely. As God continues to sanctify me, I have confidence that one day I will genuinely rejoice in the scary medical diagnoses, challenging family dynamics, major marital strains, and unexpected deaths.
We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. Romans 5:3-4
In searching my own heart, I find that I don’t like the lack of control and the unknown that comes with suffering (in addition to the actual suffering part). Sounds pretty obvious, right?
You may have picked up in past posts that I dabble in running. The past 25 years, there have been seasons of running for fun, running for health reasons, running socially, or running to reach goals. Each season is different and I’ve enjoyed all of them (and the dry spells). Running to reach goals includes an amount of physical suffering. Runners sometimes call this the pain cave, this place where you are intentionally positioning your body to suffer. And you don’t choose to run hard workouts so the pain lessons or it gets easier, runners choose this so they can endure the suffering longer. This chosen “suffering” is controlled and calculated. There’s an end to it, and you know there will be gains. Runners embrace this suffering in order to achieve goals. This hit me right between the eyes when trying to overlay this chosen suffering to unwanted suffering. Are there certain hard things in your life you’re able to choose, and other hard things you wish you could end?
I love how we are challenged to truly rejoice in suffering! How amazing to be so filled with the Holy Spirit that we choose hard things on this earth! And let’s be honest, any of my suffering is so much different than the true suffering of Christ. God hasn’t given me a calling that lands me in jail, I haven’t been beaten or persecuted for my faith. My experiences can hardly be called suffering or compared to Jesus’s suffering.
So what about you? Where does this topic land on you? Are you praying for trials and rejoicing in suffering? If not, what do you think is holding you back? I’d love to hear your thoughts!