Pain and suffering are an inescapable part of our daily living. They serve as a constant reminder of the curse of sin and death that was the punishment due for Adam's breaking the covenant of works with God in the Garden of Eden. In the light of that high estate in which mankind was created, we see painfully clear how the world in which we live is fallen.
It is in this fallen cursed state that we struggle both physically and spiritually. Our bodies get sick with viruses, cancers, disease, and dementia. Likewise, our souls struggle in a constant battle against indwelling sin. The apostle Paul refers to this struggle between the lusts of the flesh and the desires of the spirit in Galatians 5:16ff, as he exhorts them to flee the works of the flesh and to seek the fruit of the Spirit.
Oftentimes physical and spiritual suffering go hand-in-hand. When a loved one is diagnosed with a terminal illness, it can be a tremendously difficult spiritual trial. When a young man loses the use of his legs in a car accident, it can lead to a struggle with anger and bitterness. Such is our reality in this sin-cursed world.
So, how are we to approach suffering as Christians? Knowing that God is the sovereign Lord over His creation, we understand that our suffering cannot happen apart from His holy will. Not only has God allowed us to suffer, but He has decreed it to be so. This is a source of great comfort for God's children. It is because we know that He is in control and His will is good and gracious toward us, that we are freed to live out our sufferings in peace. This peace comes from our trust in our loving Father who does all things for our good and for His glory. Because His loving kindness never fails us, we never have cause to doubt or to be afraid.
This does not mean that suffering is not painful. Indeed, we may suffer greatly in this life. Our Lord Jesus says in Mark 8:34b-35, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it."
In speaking of this peace we have with God as it relates to our suffering, the apostle Paul writes in Romans 5:1-6, "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly."
It is Christ's sacrificial death for us, his suffering for us, his precious gift of full atonement, the gift of his perfect righteousness that is our shameless hope. This unfailing hope, this sure salvation, this resurrection reality is what enables us to rejoice in our suffering. No matter what we face in this life, it can't compare to the glory of Christ and the redemption he has purchased for us (Rom. 8:35-39). No matter how low we feel in this fallen world, we are filled with the Spirit of the risen Christ who unites us to our resurrected and ascended Lord and makes us to drink deeply of the kingdom of Christ and the fullness of our promised inheritance.
It is when things seem the darkest that the light of Christ shines the brightest. When our hearts seem to be bursting at the seams with pain, then the joy of Christ tastes the sweetest. It is here that tears of sorrow mix with tears of thankful joy as we cry out "Abba, Father!" In the darkness of sorrow, we see the radiant glory of heaven. Our Savior reveals a portion of the coming glory through John in Revelation 21:3-7, "And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." And he who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." And he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son."
We have this heritage of sonship as members of the household of faith. This is a wonderful blessing! We look forward to our home in heaven where there will be no more suffering. But as we continue to suffer in this life, we do not do it alone. The church of Jesus Christ suffers together. We bear each others burdens, we provide mutual comfort and support, and we weep with those who weep (Rom 12:15)!
There is no true comfort apart from the love of God poured out to you in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 1:3-7). When you suffer, fix your eyes upon Jesus. Flee to Him for comfort and consolation. You will find peace in His body, the church. Embrace the fellowship of the saints, embrace the ministry of the Word which Christ's provides through His ministers, embrace the loving oversight and support of your elders who love you.
There are several hymns that have been a blessing to me during times of suffering. I commend them to you in the hopes you may also be blessed by them. Abide with Me #402, Be Still My Soul #689, Whate'er My God Ordains is Right #108, and My Jesus as Thou Wilt #685. Please note: the hymn numbers provided are in the Revised (Red) Trinity Hymnal, while the links are to the online tunes of the Blue Trinity Hymnal.