Hope Through Suffering (4 of 4)

15. Hope Through Suffering (#4 Jesus)ARRIVING HOME: Jesus Finds Me

It’s time for the final leg of my journey to make sense of suffering—the homecoming. If other worldviews can’t answer suffering meaningfully, and if our expectations and experience of suffering don’t disprove but rather point towards God’s existence, can a wounded traveller have faith in a loving God?

Imagine this wounded traveller, disillusioned with the alternative options, and wearied by all the logic of the philosophers, finally returned home only to find Jesus sitting on my couch waiting for me. Somehow he already knows my story. His eyes are filled with compassion, and confused and wearied, I slowly sit down as he opens the books of Scripture, or better put, the book of his own suffering. How does the Christian faith offer answers and hope? Can I trust this man before me as he holds this book with scars in his hands?

A SEA OF SOURCES: What Jesus Might Say

There are a number of places Jesus might point me in the Bible. He might point me back to the origin of suffering, stemming not from God’s good design but from our corruption of it. He might point me back to his alleviation of suffering, where in his first coming he healed those around him, and treated suffering, sickness, and death as enemies of humanity. He might point me forward to the eclipse of suffering, where in the final pages of the Bible it paints the picture of God’s future kingdom where the sting of suffering will be removed—“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” (Rev 21:4). But I don’t think Jesus would lead with these; he’s not one for offering mere pie in the sky when we die.

He could explain why he allows us to suffer, redeeming our afflictions to serve a momentary purpose in his plan. Perhaps they alert us to our brokenness of the world, serving as God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world to our need for rescue. Perhaps they serve to quiet a proud or distracted heart, causing us to cry out and ask the big questions in life. Perhaps they serve to forge our character, fashioning us with our cooperation to become heavenly rather than hellish beings. Perhaps they serve to evoke our compassion and empathy, teaching us to know and pursue the love and care of others as we journey together through the pain. But I don’t think Jesus would lead with any of those either.

He could express how much our suffering grieves him, despite its momentary purpose, revealing how every tear that we shed for the plight of those we love is borrowed from His divine eye. All these things are true and offer better answers to the source and meaning of our suffering than the alternatives. And yet, I don’t feel Jesus would lead with any of these approaches.

DIVINE SUFFERING: What Jesus Has Done

The truth is that words come cheap. Sitting with me in my pain, Jesus wouldn’t seek to point me to an explanation of his love, but rather to a demonstration of his love. Opening his hands, revealing the scars of his crucifixion, Jesus would point me straight to the moment in history where God demonstrated, once for all, the depths of his love for me by embracing my suffering on the cross.

Here’s the truth. When we hurt, we don’t need a philosopher; we need a friend. One who understands us; one who has walked through the fire before us; one who has emerged new out the other side. Honestly, I’m not sure I could ever trust a glorified God if He weren’t also a crucified God. As Dostoyevsky said, “No other God has scars!” Curiously, this Jesus is not untouched by the suffering of the world; he entered it to redeem us from it. So turning to me, and to you also, Jesus asks a searching question…

Cannot a wounded traveller trust a wounded healer?

A NEW HOPE: A Trust that Transforms

Suffering gets no easier when we get rid of God. Billions of Christians, though, can testify to the experience of encountering the risen Jesus as they journeyed as wounded travellers. This encounter changed them, but not always their circumstances. Although Scripture is not shy on suffering, God never explained to Job in the OT or to the man born blind in the NT why they suffered as they did. But as they surely asked questions as to whether he cared about them, and as everyone around them saw them as objects of God’s anger or apathy, he appeared in their midst to silence these questions. In the coming of Jesus, in the cross of Christ, we may not have a clear answer as to why God allows our particular sufferings, but we know for certain what it cannot mean; it cannot mean that God doesn’t love us.

For the sceptics out there I entered the faith with questions. God has put enough into the world in the cross to know that we can trust him, but he has not answered all our questions. He doesn’t intend to immediately. He wants us to trust him. For the sufferers out there, God doesn’t always change our circumstances, but he offers us friendship, comfort, the promise of our eternal future, and a church to walk with us as we suffer. Jesus’ scars became the very sending symbol he gave his disciples. In John 20, appearing in a locked room, Jesus extended his scarred hands, “As the Father has sent me, so I send YOU!”

If you’re a wounded traveller, trust in the wounded healer, and he just may redeem your wounds to become a source of sharing in and offering hope amidst other people’s pain.

Dan Paterson is director of operations at Traverse, and a Pastor at Ashgrove Baptist Church.

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