Even though I suffer as I do, I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day. Hold on to the pattern of sound teaching you have heard from me, with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. – 2 Timothy 1:12-13
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial that has come upon you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed at the revelation of His glory. – 1 Peter 4:12-13
The verses above are just a few representing many in Scripture, walking us through the experience of suffering. The Apostle Paul was writing to Timothy from a Roman prison. Facing a death sentence yet his understanding of and love for God were not dampened. The Apostle Peter wrote his letter to the persecuted believers scattered across the Roman provinces in Asia Minor. He encouraged them to persevere and remain faithful to a God who also experienced suffering. Peter would also die for his faith and would know the great joy of seeing Christ in all his glory.
Suffering is something we struggle to understand. We want to have an answer, a reason…to explain it to our own hearts or to someone else hurting. Why is there suffering, especially if God is all-powerful and wholly good? This question is a common objection held by those who reject Christianity.
Going through Keller’s study, I was reminded that it is not for me to offer up explanations or reasons. This is not a cop-out but a real and straight-up “I just don’t know why”. Because my walk with God through suffering has only caused me to cling to Him all the more.
Now, I haven’t lost a child (twins in utero but not a child whose face I knew and heart I loved). Nor have I lost a husband, or home, or my health. However, through all the losses across this life, God was there. Sometimes quieter than I would prefer…but there. Present. Through a peace beyond understanding, through verses in the Bible illuminated for me, through the company of friends and families who keep showing up, and through the strength to keep going by His grace alone.
The Apostle Paul speaks about joy in suffering (Romans 5:3-6) and the hope we can know because of God’s love revealed to us through the death and resurrection of Christ.
The Lord has his reasons…and I can wait to know them. What matters more is I know Him. The comfort He has given on so many occasions of loss is that of One who not only knows our wounds but bore wounds for us Himself.
If we have never sought, we seek Thee now;
Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;
We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow,
We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars.
The heavens frighten us; they are too calm;
In all the universe we have no place.
Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?
Lord Jesus, by Thy Scars, we claim Thy grace.
If, when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near,
Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine;
We know today what wounds are, have no fear,
Show us Thy Scars, we know the countersign.
The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone. – Edward Shillito
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride
Forbid it Lord that I should boast
Save in the death of Christ my God
All the vain things that charm me most
I sacrificed them to His blood
See from His head His hands His feet
Sorrow and love flow mingled down
Did ere such love and sorrow meet
Or thorns compose so rich a crown
Were the whole realm of nature mine
that were a present far too small
Love so amazing so divine
Demands my soul my life my all*
Postscript: I want to return again to Horatio Spafford, writer of the poem “It is Well with My Soul”. This poem, turned into a much beloved hymn, focuses on the cross of Christ. Written after Spafford lost all four of his daughters in an oceanliner accident. In the poem, he clings to the cross of Christ. For many reasons, I’m sure, but he must have drawn great comfort from a God who drew near to us through suffering, and a God who knew the pain of losing a child to death.