As Christians, when we see the war, inequality, cruelty, disease and death (for simplicity this piece will group these under “suffering”) ongoing around our fallen world, what is our heart’s response? It can be a confusing topic because we are often reminded that God is sovereign and that all things work together ultimately for his glory, and this is a wonderful comfort for the Christian in the midst of pain and suffering. While that is true, it is important to remember that it is still appropriate to be moved by this suffering, we mustn’t allow ourselves to become numb to it, or void of compassion towards those going through tribulation.
The one who is sovereign
Before we think about our emotions in response to suffering, let’s consider who has power over evil. Paul writes to the church in Colossae:
And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
When we see suffering, it is right to remember God’s sovereignty. There is tremendous comfort to be found in the fact that nothing takes him by surprise. He isn’t caught off guard by the evil in the world as we are, and more importantly, no evil can triumph. The latter point is particularly relevant to ponder just after Easter. Consider the fact that because of the death and resurrection of Christ, death is defeated! Suffering although painful now, is ultimately powerless.
Appropriate to weep
Remembering this glorious truth doesn’t mean we need to show no emotion in response to suffering. Consider Jesus’ response to his dear friend Lazarus’ death.
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” John 11:33-36
It goes without saying that Jesus always knew who was in control, he is God made man, he knew better than anyone that God is sovereign over suffering. However, this didn’t prevent him from being deeply moved by death. What is also striking is that the Jews saw him weeping and exclaimed “See how he loved him!” A lesson we can learn here is that our response to suffering displays where our heart lies. How moved we are by the suffering others are experiencing is indicative of how much we care for them. We see clearly throughout the gospels that Jesus’ heart burned again injustice. He reached out to those in society who everyone else despised, he healed them, and he loved them. What a challenge for us.
He is making all things new
A quote you may have heard before, perhaps at the funeral of a Christian, is “we don’t mourn as those with no hope.”
This is a very profound quote, and it is so comforting when we think about it. As Christians, we know the end of the story. God has revealed to us through his word, that one day he will make everything new. Read these beautiful words from the end of the Bible.
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.”
This is the comfort that the Christian has, and there is no greater comfort. As we look around our world and see brokenness, pain and injustice, it should move us deeply, and furthermore it should make us long to share with others the comfort that we know.
It is the biblical response to be moved by suffering, but in our response let us also remember the one who is sovereign, and the gospel which changes everything.