The Final Say in Suffering

The past few days have been filled with weeping. Weeping at random, in the shower, while giving a school assignment to my daughter, while nursing my newborn at 2am.

I’m not weeping because my husband was at a conference most of the weekend and I was physically exhausted from caring for 4 children. Nor because the toddler was sick all week and I’m at *sick* of snot and germs (pun intended).

*Image courtesy of Emma Trevisan via unsplash.com

I’m weeping because a very beloved friend of mine suffered an unimaginable loss last week, and my heart aches for her pain through the watches of the night and the mundane of the day.

I’m weeping because she’s the third person close to me to experience a major tragedy in the last three months.

That’s not counting the half dozen others I know who have experienced major tragedies in the last 6 months, or are in the trenches of ongoing suffering.

When I say “major tragedy” and “suffering”, I’m not using those terms lightly.

We’re talking sudden loss of an infant or child. Miscarriage. Wildfire ravaging homes. Unexpected loss of a parent. Husbands battling potentially life-threatening conditions with genetic components that may affect their children. Parents battling cancer for years on end. Finding out a child has been sexually abused by a relative.

Heavy, heartbreaking stuff.

Can We Stop Over-Spiritualizing Suffering?

Can I be honest for a minute? Can I just say what we all feel? What we’re all thinking when we stop over-spiritualizing long enough to deal with suffering frankly?

I’m weary of this broken world. I’m weary of watching people I love experience loss and heartache and being powerless to alleviate their pain.

I’m angry at sin and brokenness. I’m angry at the enemy who delights in our demise.

I’m wondering why Jesus hasn’t returned. I’m wondering why suffering seems so unfairly distributed.

I’m longing for suffering to end. I’m longing for this broken world to be a distant memory.

I can’t tell you how many times in the last several months I have thought, wept, moaned, or angrily shouted in my head “Come, Lord Jesus, come!” or “Why haven’t you come back yet?”

And you know what? The weariness and anger and longing I feel aren’t wrong. In fact, they’re right.

It Wasn’t Meant to Be This Way

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They’re right because this was never the way things were supposed to be. Death was not the plan. Hear that: we weren’t supposed to die.

That’s why death makes us feel like our hearts are being torn from our chests repeatedly. All other suffering we experience is a tied to death, either to physical death (such as physical pain) or spiritual death (such as the effects of sin, whether ours or someone else’s).

I don’t understand it all. I don’t pretend to understand the how’s, the why’s, the what’s, the when’s, the who’s of suffering (believe me, I’ve struggled with that last one a lot. Why have my thirty years been relatively free of tragedy when so many loved ones suffer one hardship after another? That’s a post for another day).

I may not understand it all, but I do know He never meant for us to have to experience this. That’s why He made the tree of the knowledge of good and evil off limits to begin with. And that’s why, on this side of Eden, His heart breaks with ours.

Hear that, friends. God weeps with us because He knows we were never meant to die. He created us for life, not death.

Jesus wept when he found out Lazarus was dead. Why would he weep when He knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead? Because Lazarus wasn’t supposed to have to die. His sisters weren’t supposed to have to grieve. They weren’t supposed to have to know what heartache felt like.

In those two small words, “Jesus wept”, Jesus sets us free in so many ways…to weep. To grieve the brokenness of this world. To shout “it’s not fair!” – because it isn’t. To ask that the cup be taken from us, even when we know it won’t be.

Yes, God is good.

Yes, God is sovereign.

Yes, God works in and through suffering.

Yes, God’s purposes and plans can’t be thwarted.

Yes, God knows the number of days each of us will live on this earth.

We can affirm those truths and proclaim the goodness of God in the midst of suffering while still acknowledging this is not the way things were supposed to be.

Whispers of Hope in the Middle of Grief

As we acknowledge that reality, through our tears and in our grief, the whisper of the gospel comes, planting hope in our hearts: It won’t be this way forever.

Brokenness is far reaching. It leaves no person untouched. We all feel the effects of that half-eaten apple. None of us are immune. Either we weep for our own suffering or we weep with those we love for theirs. Or both. We can’t escape it.

But the love of God is farther reaching. So far reaching, in fact, that it paved a way to set all things right again. Jesus suffered so that our suffering could come to an end. He died, so that our death would not be final. He rose, so that we could rise to new life.

The more we long for the way things were supposed to be, the more beautiful the gospel is to us. The gospel isn’t just about my personal saving from my own sin. It’s about the King who will avenge His people, the Shepherd who will reclaim His sheep, the Creator who will restore His creation, the Bridegroom who will reinstate His bride, the Warrior who will accomplish His victory. It’s about this messy, broken world being flipped on its head, the author of brokenness defeated once and for all. It’s about hope.

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
    the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
    and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

Lamentations 3:19-24

Though we find ourselves swimming in a sea of suffering, though the waves of hardship wash over us, leaving us breathless and gasping for air, we are not consumed, because we are not without hope.

So, on days when our hearts are broken, when nothing makes sense, when the frailty of life is far too poignant, we cling to this hope and remember:

Suffering doesn’t have the final say.

Pain doesn’t have the final say.

Death doesn’t have the final say.

Jesus has the final say.

Come, Lord Jesus, come!