Monday, October 24, 2011

Hope in Suffering

So, this past weekend great. I'm not writing a synopsis of it, but I am going to write about a great truth it helped hit home for me. In session after session, speakers mentioned that we are embodied creatures- we're not just souls living in a physical house that is worthless and meaningless- our bodies are part of who we are and God cares about them! That means He cares about relieving our physical suffering, which includes various symptoms associated with depression and other "psychological" suffering! (This whole body thing has been a big deal to me lately so I'm hoping to write more on it later.)

But, (of course there's a but!) they also stressed that relief of the physical symptoms of suffering- while it's important and should be fought for- should not be our final or primary goal. Instead, we should hope for relief from physical suffering while also learning to depend more fully on Jesus in the midst of it. This transforms the way we suffer and it gives us hope now, even when the end of our suffering may not be in sight! I'll try and give a few examples, although I'm sure many readers have examples of their own.

My father died when I was fourteen. This pretty much rocked my world. Anyone who has lost a loved one can relate to this form of suffering! And God cares about it. He absolutely comforts and restores and provides and redeems my life from this "miry bog". But He has also shown me infinite joy- a deeper joy than I would have experienced apart from my suffering- that has transformed even the way I've continued to grieve as I've grown. So that means there is tender care from the Lord in both relieving my suffering and transforming it to show me more of Himself.

For a few years I really struggled with a particular insecurity- a sin- that seemed to just not go away. Those who struggle with various forms of social anxiety can relate to this form of suffering. I read all the books I could on the topic; I confessed to friends and asked them to pray for me; I sought wise counsel; I prayed and fasted and asked the Lord to heal my heart. In all of these things God certainly cared about my suffering- He was working to relieve it! But He chose to heal in His timing (which believe me, was very different from my timing!) and used even that time of persisting sin to teach me to depend on Him in a way that I would not have apart from my suffering. It taught me to cry out for help on a daily basis, to see my Rescuer as Christ alone and not a self-help book, and it taught me to trust in His goodness, even when I'm not getting what I want when I want. (Which is, of course, complete relief immediately!)

I have a bad back. This is such minor physical pain that it's almost laughable to mention in light of the physical suffering of so many, but it is still a form of suffering in my life. This pain in my back matters to God. He cares about my body. He can heal me and is working to redeem all things in me- even my body. But in the face of remaining physical pain, I have learned to put my hope in Christ in a way I would not have apart from my suffering. I'm daily reminded that this earth is awaiting full redemption, that the return of Christ truly will make all things new and that we groan and long for it.

So, I found that this reminder brings real hope to those suffering, whether it be with depression or a bad back or with various fears that won't seem to go away! It reminds us that yes, God cares deeply about our suffering and yes, His redemption extends to relieving our pain. But it also reminds us to put our hope in the One who is bigger than the relief of our symptoms- Jesus Christ. In His goodness toward those who are His, He turns even our suffering to joy; the joy of dependence and trust.

This is Jesus: a God who both cares to relieve our suffering and who make its possible for us to rejoice in the midst of it. If you are weary with suffering, come to Him!

The Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me."
-2 Corinthians 12:9

"You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!"
-Psalm 30:11-12

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