I have been out of circulation for a little while due to some rather difficult circumstances my family has had to face. While I will not discuss the details of this, suffice it to say that God has been blessing us through the furnace of the refiner’s fire. In the last year we have faced a great number of difficulties. As a result, there have been days where we have wept because of the suffering we faced. There have also been days where we rejoiced in our pain that we serve a great and powerful God who knew exactly what He was doing, even if we didn’t. Through all this time, my faith has been tried in ways I never expected. Even today, as I write this post, I know that in my heart, despondency and depression are close at hand. If I did not admit this, if I tried to tell you that we have been all smiles, never doubting God for even a moment, I would be a terrible liar. Yet, I write this, not to complain so that people will comfort me. I write it to be a comfort to you.
2 Corinthians 1: 3-4 tells us “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 affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” What this is teaching us is that God allows us to endure suffering and affliction and that He comforts us in that affliction. In turn, we then can comfort others in their suffering, with the same comfort we received from God. That is to say that one of the reasons we endure suffering is so we can be comforted and in turn we can comfort others who suffer.
It sounds like a crazy revolving door, yet it makes a lot of sense. If the world were just one giant accidental cosmic burp, as evolution teaches us, then there is not one thing in which we can find comfort in our suffering. In fact, suffering and affliction should be exalted because it is what culls the weaker of the species off. We should not seek to comfort those who are hurting; we should let them die off because they are too weak to handle the harsh realities of life.
Yet, it is in the gospel that we find the reason for comfort. God created the entire universe, this massive, seemingly endless expanse. And tucked away in one tiny portion of it, He created a planet where He placed mankind. There, He placed the breath of life into man and gave him dominion over all His creation. God gave man but one command, to not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Yet, Adam, in his wanton rebellion, ate of the tree, ushering in death and forever tainting mankind in sin. The creation was perfect, no suffering, no death, and no affliction. Yet, the perfect creation was forever marred by the sin of man. Now mankind must endure suffering because of the wickedness of his heart.
God then promised Adam that from his descendants would one day come a Seed that would defeat death and redeem fallen man. In that promise was comfort. It was a promise that despite what man brought upon himself, God would one day rescue him from it. That promise was fulfilled when the Son of God came down from His throne and took on humanity. Jesus Christ lived a life of perfect obedience to the law of God, yet He willing received the wrath of the Father at the cross and took the full punishment that all sinners deserve. Following His death, Christ was buried in the tomb, yet rose Himself three days later, defeating sin and death. God promised comfort to those who would recognize their sinfulness before a holy Judge, who would repent of those sins and throw themselves at the foot of the blood stained cross, crying out in faith to the One who had died for them. That comfort was given when sinners were made sinless in the eyes of God, being given the righteousness of Christ in exchange for the sinful burden He nailed to the cross.
All those who have ever trusted in Christ – those looking forward from the promise made to Adam in the garden and those looking back at the finished work of the cross – have the comfort of knowing that their sins are forgiven and that they will experience eternal life in the presence of their Savior. But they also have comfort in knowing two other things. One, that when they enter into that eternal life, all pain and suffering will come to an end. And that, two, while in this life, all the pain and suffering they endure will happen only because the sovereign will of God has allowed it. No momentary affliction, no matter how intense, will be felt without the express decree of God. And in that is great comfort, because if God has willed it, then it is for His glory and our ultimate good.
How can pain and suffering be good? First, it reminds us that this life is only temporary. This world, as beautiful and amazing as it can be, is a fallen, busted wreck. It is tainted by the effect of sin brought into it by man. Because it is in this state, one day, God will destroy it all and create a new heavens and a new earth. Suffering in this life reminds us that God’s sovereign decree is that one day He will bring all things into judgment. Only those who have repented and placed their faith in Christ while be spared His righteous wrath, poured down in fire from Heaven. Suffering causes us to long for that day when He will restore His creation, and reminds us to hold onto this world with very light hands.
Secondly, suffering causes us to realize we are not in control of our lives. There is nothing that happens to us that God has not ordained. Therefore, no matter how hard we try to orchestrate the events of our lives so that we have the great success and most comfort possible, only God can determine what the next day (or hour, or even minute) will bring. Suffering humbles us and causes us to understand that we cannot for even one moment be in complete control of our lives. We wholly depend upon God for life and breath. Therefore, suffering makes us cling tightly to the Master of our destiny, knowing that everything He does is right and good. It frees us from trying to be the ultimate director in the play that we try to write for ourselves. It causes us to rest in Him who ordained it from the very beginning.
Of course, such rest does not come easily for us sinful beings trapped in this tainted flesh. That is why God continually allows suffering and affliction to tear us from the grasp of wretched and rebellious world. With each new trial in our lives, if we will but cling to the Master, the pain we feel will be comforted by the very One who brought us into that suffering. And as He carries us through it, we can look back and see where He has refined us into a fine and precious tool, created for His workmanship. Then we can know that the suffering we endured was for His purposes, and for our ultimate good.
I implore you know, if you are going through a terrible trial, cling to the Lord. Know that He is using this time to make you into something He will use. It is not easy, it is most certainly painful. If you will but trust in Him alone, not so that you may gain something from it, but so that you may bring glory to Him, then you will find that one day you can be a comfort to someone else who is enduring a time of testing. You can testify to how God used your pain to strip away those things that kept you trapped in a sinful mindset. How He humbled and purified you, how He made you fit for His use. During this time, do not cry out as if this suffering never should have occurred to you. Know that, were God to give us what we truly deserve, this light affliction would be nothing compared to His judgment. So glory in His mercy that this time of hurting is His work in you, and find comfort in knowing there is not one thing God has allowed in your life that is not a blessing from Him