Suffering and Sorrow
Suffering and doubt are inextricably linked for me. Pain and heartache causes me to doubt God in some way or another, which then feels like a faith crisis spiraling out of control. My experience in some Christian circles has been that we should mask our disappointments and frustrations, anesthetize ourselves to the pain of life, and forbid doubts to be voiced.
This grieves my heart deeply as I have learned that Jesus demonstrates a way to live fully alive: acknowledging our pain, doubts, and frustrations to God and grieving the things that are not right in the world. Jesus knowingly became like us, entered into our broken, messy world and lived similar heartaches, pain, and suffering. The key difference, I have learned, is that He managed to live in a way that validated the brokenness of life and invited God into the midst of it all.
Jesus was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53) and I am relieved to know that my own suffering is not foreign to God. Jesus knows what it was like to be poor, to be rejected, to be misunderstood, to be harassed, abused, and to look death in the face. I find solace in Jesus’ humanity in the garden of Gethsemane where He lamented to our Father, asking God for another option just hours before He was arrested, tortured, and crucified (Matthew 26:38-39). His bold honesty is both shocking and refreshing to me. Jesus, the perfect, Holy Son of God was in anguish and He didn’t hold back one bit. He literally begged God for another way to accomplish His plan. Often I have felt that I must “grin and bear it”, numbing my way through life and pretending like everything is just fine. But Jesus shows us another way to live that is honest and raw, open to pain and open to God’s voice simultaneously.
Jesus also shows us how to lament when His friend Lazarus dies (John 11). Scriptures tell us that Jesus wept; I imagine uncontrollable, shaky sobs, his face drenched in tears and Jesus inconsolable in his grief. And yet afterwards, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Jesus chose to enter into his grief, knowing full-well that He could and would reverse death for his friend. Jesus could have been stoic, refusing to mourn because he knew what would happen next… but he wept instead. It’s almost like Jesus is giving us permission to be a mess: weep, be devastated, and lament as long as you need because the reality is this: it is right to be inconsolable in the face of irrational pain and evil.
This week, Dr. J Todd Billings will be sharing from his own life how he continues to trust God in light of his diagnosis with incurable, terminal cancer. As we anticipate hearing from him, I will leave you with these thoughts from his book Rejoicing in Lament:
“Lament is part of the Christian life until the final kingdom comes… Scripture does not say God owes us a long life. But paradoxically this does not mean that we accept suffering and death with a stoic fatalism. Instead, God's people lament.”