Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation. For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead II Cor. 1:3-9NKJV
During my pilgrimage towards the celestial city, I have run across a myriad of teachings and doctrines. But the doctrine of suffering is something that had eluded me for many years. We all know, at least theoretically, that Jesus told us “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me (Lk.9:23)”. Most Christians would affirm that this is part of the call to Christianity and we recognize that to follow Jesus we must pick up our cross. But how soon and often we forget that the cross is the epitome of pain and suffering. Think of how easily we begin to sound like Job’s counselors or even dismiss the idea that God would call us to suffer. We live in a culture of despair. Even this past year we saw one of the funniest men in history succumb to despair and take his own life. What would cause someone to get to a point of such pain, despair, and hopelessness that it would cause them to take their own life? I would submit to you that to have pain without a purpose, to suffer without a Savior, and to endure tribulations without the truth and comfort of God’s Word is unbearable. So where do we start? How can we begin to develop a biblical view of suffering in light of God’s goodness and sovereignty? Notice the passage above and how Paul recognizes his affliction and suffering are for a purpose. Please note that the Apostle Paul doesn’t minimize his situation either: tribulation (v4); suffering (v5); affliction (v6); burdened beyond measure (v8); and the sentence of death in ourselves (v9). Paul doesn’t put on a smile and say everything is alright. He doesn’t hide the fact they are suffering and they are burdened beyond measure. Paul confronts real life and suffering with real hope and assurance. Here are four things Paul is teaching us about suffering:
God ordained this suffering– Either God is in control or He is not. Everything that exists in the universe exists because God allowed it, decreed it, and called it into existence. “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (Ps. 115:3). “Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Ps. 135:6). He “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11). “From Him and through Him and to Him are all things” (Rom. 11:36). “For us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him” (1 Cor. 8:6). Before the foundation of the earth, God ordained this moment for His glory and our good. Remember this important truth daily.
This suffering causes me to partake in the suffering of Christ– We serve a Savior who is “a Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief”. Jesus experienced sorrows and grief. Matthew Henry said: “Christians ought not only to be patient, but to rejoice, in their sharpest sorest sufferings for Christ, because they are tokens of divine favour; they promote the gospel and prepare for glory. Those who rejoice in their sufferings for Christ shall eternally triumph and rejoice with him in glory.” Does it bring you joy to know you are worthy to suffer for the name of Christ and He is preparing you for eternal glory?
As I partake of the sufferings of Christ I experience the comfort of the Father of mercies and God of all comfort– Our pain and suffering have a purpose. God Himself is going to comfort us! Jesus will come to us in the storm. He gives us His peace. We experience the Father’s mercies and comfort. Think of all the mercies and comfort you have been given because of your loving Father in heaven. Paul Tripp said, “God uses uncomfortable and painful suffering to pry open our hands so we let go of the things of this earth and hold more tightly onto Jesus.” God tells us Jesus “will gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom” (Is.40:11). When you are hurting, beloved, Jesus is right there to gather you in His arms and carry you in His bosom.
As I experience His comfort I will be a comfort to you when you suffer– Some of you have lost children. Some of you have lost your spouse of many years. Some of us struggle with depression, suicide, or PTSD. The body of Christ needs to hear and see JESUS is sufficient. We need to hear that pain and suffering are real and so is the mercy and comfort of our God. Jesus told Paul “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather boast in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (II Cor. 12:9).