How am I supposed to deal with what I am going through? This question has been asked since probably the existence of sin. Questions are raining down about suffering, sickness, lament, and many more areas in life that seem to be out of control. We live in a fallen world where we are impacted by the effects of personal and corporate sin.
I am tired of the effects of sin. I am tired of my sin. I am tired of being affected by other people’s sin. I am tired of living in the reality of sin. As a pastor, I am weary of trying to process all that the world is throwing at us and all that those made in the image of God are dealing with. Death is ever-present, and mental illness is always lingering overhead. Suffering is the worst!
During these times, local churches need to develop an understanding of biblical lament and hope in suffering.
When we read the book of Lamentations, we read of a nation that was guilty of causing their sufferings. Lament does not just mean you are guilty. Lament says God is good, so no matter what sufferings we go through, even if they cause the deepest of groans, we have a God who is good and faithful. We may suffer physically, mentally, or spiritually and the biblical answer for each of these is the same – God.
Comparing the books of Lamentations and Philippians, you will find that in every situation there is a gracious and merciful God. Are you battling a mental illness? There is a promise of hope. Are you wrestling with a particular sin? There is a promise of hope. Are you processing a diagnosis? There is a promise of hope.
Throughout Scripture, we never find instructions on moving past suffering. You will not find seven steps to overcome the reality of suffering in Scripture. Instead, we find a hope that is far better than moving past. The good news of the Gospel is the promise that Jesus conquered the stronghold of the effects of sin. When we identify in Jesus, we are told to expect to suffer. However, when we identify in Jesus, we also have the promise of a future end to all suffering. In Philippians, Paul uses words like straining and pressing forward. Suffering will not be easy, but it is not forever.
What you need in suffering is not how to cope. You need the anchored root of faith, which is the greater prize in life. Paul says, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). He states earlier, in verse 8, all loss he may encounter is nothing compared to gaining Christ. Christ is sufficient for lasting joy. God is also worthy of our praise, even when we do not understand why things are happening. The author of Lamentations says, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore, I will hope in him” (Lam. 3:21-24).
Life is going to be hard, and we are going to face difficult situations. The danger is to fold into self-pity or self-help. The maturity and rooted faith of believers is found in having a biblical understanding of suffering and hope in Jesus. We rest in the truth that “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it, we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:20-21).