This life is full of tragedy. In fact if Genesis 3 tells us anything, it tells us that we can expect our world to be full of tragedy and suffering because this world is not as it should be… this is a broken world and tragedy is part of life.
But what is a Christian response to tragedy and suffering?
Currently we are surrounded by stories of personal loss and suffering caused by the earthquake in Haiti. Last year it was the tragedy of bush-fire in Victoria, before that it was the Indian Ocean Tsunami… There are countless tragedies caused by cyclones, or drought, or flooding, or disease… So what does the Bible have to say on suffering?
Well the Bible has a lot to say to us in the midst of our suffering, more than we can cover here. So I just want to point out 4 key responses to personal suffering that the Bible offers. These 4 responses come from the examples of Job (pronounced “Jobe“), the psalm writers, and Jesus himself.
Firstly, Job’s response to suffering teaches us to respond with trust.
More specifically, our response is to trust that God knows more about our suffering than we do. After Job is hit with tragedy after tragedy within the first 2 chapters of the book, the next 36 chapters are spent trying to work out Why Job is suffering… but Job never finds out Why… Instead God speaks from a whirlwind and delivers a powerful speech that leaves Job (and us) awestruck. God’s great speech from chapters 38-41 is there to remind us that God knows more about what’s going on than we do. God can see the bigger picture that we can’t see. And in the middle of our suffering we need to trust that God is taking care of us even though we can’t see everything that’s going on or even Why we’re suffering. It’s a hard lesson. But even though Job never finds out the cause of his suffering (Satan was testing him), throughout the ordeal God was looking after Job.
BE HONEST WITH GOD:
Secondly, the psalm writers’ response to suffering teaches us to share all our troubles with God himself.
There are many different types of psalms, but it’s fair to say that most of them are psalms of lament (that means “complaint“). So often the psalm writers bring their personal anguish, and hurt, and suffering before God because this is the wonderful privilege that God gives to his creation. In fact, God invites us to come before him with our troubles and our despair. Psalm 88 and 22 are classic examples. The invitation is for us to be like the psalm writers. To share all the raw personal anguish and suffering with the God who cares and is mighty to save.
GOD FULLY IDENTIFIES WITH OUR SUFFERING:
Thirdly, Jesus’ response to suffering teaches us that God knows our suffering first-hand.
This is the most astounding thing about the incarnation: that God takes on our flesh in Jesus to totally and completely identify with our suffering. And just as the earthquake victims have lost everything in the devastation (friends, homes, family), and the flood victims have been left stranded and alone feeling abandoned by God… Jesus too lost everything on the cross, deserted by his friends, without home, or possessions, and utterly abandoned by God he suffers alone on the cross. It’s no coincidence that Jesus quotes Psalm 22:1 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (compare Mark 15:34). In Jesus, God can FULLY identify with our suffering because he himself suffered.
SUFFERING WILL BE BROUGHT TO AN END:
Lastly, God has dealt with suffering once and for all through Jesus.
In his suffering Jesus also has dealt with our pain because on that cross he defeated death. He really did suffer and die, but 3 days later was raised to new life never to die or suffer again.
And this is the promise that comes all who trust in him: In Jesus there is new life without suffering. You may be suffering now, but Jesus has prepared a place for you where you will never suffer again, a place where “We will be his people, and God himself will be with us and be our God. ‘He will wipe every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4). God has dealt with suffering once and for all.
Trust that God can see a bigger picture than what you can. He knows the things we don’t and he has everything under control. Hold firmly to your trust in him and be faithful.
Bring all your feelings of anguish, and your troubles, and your sadness, and your pain before the God who cares and is mighty to save.
Look to Jesus. Jesus knows your suffering intimately and he has done something about it… he gives you new life with him and has prepared a place for you where suffering is a thing of the past.