When the pain becomes unbearable—and it will—how do you bear it? When you can’t cope, how do you cope? When you’re in pain, the question is this: what are you going to do?
Right at the outset, remember that Christ suffered first. 1 Peter 3:18 tells us, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God…” Also look at Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” God is involved. God’s suffering mingles with mine.
In the garden of Gethsemane, Christ faces soon and horrible death on the cross. Even his friends—Peter, James and John—refuse to stand by him. They can’t even stay awake as Christ pleads with his Father to “remove this cup from me” (Mark 14:36). As Christians, our model is Jesus Christ. In fact, there is probably no better way to deal with our pain than to see how Christ dealt with his, then go and do likewise.
Jesus was “greatly distressed and troubled,” saying to those with him, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Mark 14:33-34). We simply don’t know what Christ went through at this time. Part of it was the fear of death and physical suffering. Part of it was that on the cross, Jesus was soon to be separated from the Father because of our sins. Whatever the full extent of Christ’s pain, something went on deep inside that was supernatural and simply horrible, something we cannot begin to comprehend.
The point is this: Jesus didn’t come to keep you from suffering, hurting and dying. He came to suffer as you suffer. He came to hurt as you hurt. He came to die as you will die. And he lived as you will live. If that’s the case, how did Jesus deal with his own suffering and pain?
Christ suffered in submission. Look at Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, where facing his own death, Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).
Our prayer every morning should be: “Father, I don’t know what this day holds for me. I hope that it is laughter and joy, but I know that it may be pain and suffering or hurt and humiliation. Whatever you have for me, teach me to accept it the way Christ accepted it.”
You see, there is no value in suffering per se. The difference lies in how you respond to the suffering. Strike against it or become bitter by it and you will become bloodied. Accept it and you will become Christlike.
Christ suffered with recognition—that God’s plan included the suffering and that even such suffering had meaning. Notice the phrase, “if it be possible.” In his prayer, Jesus recognized that, within God’s will, there is a reason and a purpose for suffering.
I know what you’re thinking: Well, if that’s so, what is it? Most of the time I simply don’t know…but I do know that God knows and that is enough.
Pain has its meaning if God is God. Sometimes God allows us to see that purpose—on a cross, in a lion’s den, in childbirth—but a lot of the time that meaning remains hidden. That is when we pray, “Father, if it is possible, take the pain away. But if not, you are in control and you know.”
Christ suffered with affirmation—that God was good and that God was love. You see, it is one thing to affirm that there is meaning to suffering, but if that meaning is the twisted meaning of a twisted God, then in relationship to us it simply doesn’t matter.
In Gethsemane, in his prayer, Jesus didn’t address “God,” “Jehovah” or even “Supreme Ruler of the Universe.” He prayed “my Father” and that makes all the difference.
The affirmation is this: God is good and good all the time. And he loves us.
What happens to you when you suffer? Suffering is the great purifier. Peter writes of the results of suffering, “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1-2). Suffering teaches, cleanses and changes the believer who accepts it with the same attitude with which Christ accepted it.
Pain, by itself, is nothing but evil. Pain, by itself, teaches nothing and cleanses nothing. However, pain borne with submission, recognition and affirmation is different and powerful. Why? Pain reminds me that I’m mortal and teaches me to set priorities, to trust in God, to identify with the suffering of Christ and to grasp lightly those things that are not eternal. Suffering is not wasted on those who follow Christ’s example. Don’t let it be wasted on you.
While your circumstances may not change, crosses have a strange way of becoming crowns.
Time to Draw Away
Take time this week to read through the Gospel accounts of Christ’s death and resurrection, and the events leading up to it: Matthew 26-28, Mark 14-16, Luke 22-24 & John 18-20. Note every point of pain Christ faced—physical, emotional and spiritual.
In his identification with you, God doesn’t leave you alone in your pain and struggle. His comfort is yours. Check out: Psalm 34:4 & 18, Isaiah 40:27-31, Isaiah 41:10, Matthew 11:28-30 & 2 Corinthians 1:3-5.
God really is good and good all the time. And he can be trusted. It is by his grace that you can pray, “Father, I don’t know what this day holds for me. I hope that it is laughter and joy, but I know that it may be pain and suffering or hurt and humiliation. Whatever you have for me, teach me to accept it the way Christ accepted it.”