“I was raped by a deacon in my church for ten years.” “My mom molested me and then became pregnant by me. No one has ever believed me, and I have to live with that every day.” “I was kidnapped and raped when I was a teenager. There was not anything I could do; I just felt so powerless.” These are just a few of the thousands of stories of trauma and suffering that I have heard as a Christian therapist. Stories of suffering and trauma are common to the human experience. We do not all experience suffering to the same degree, but we all suffer evil having been done to us and evil coming out from within us aimed at others. There is nothing we can do to escape the relentless pursuit of evil and suffering that we experience. Suffering is ubiquitous to the human experience and shows up in myriad ways.
The Effects of Suffering
Suffering can lead to psychological distress, which manifests itself through depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other psychiatric disorders. Trauma has a unique impact on our brains and bodies, and researchers have now identified that the trauma experienced by our ancestors can impact future generations (Kellerman, 2011). Kellerman and other researchers have found that trauma can impact the way our DNA is read, creating dysfunction within our brains and bodies and subsequently in our psychological functioning; the science confirms scriptural truths that we “bear the sins of our ancestors” (Lamentations 5:7). Suffering and trauma impact the way our brains work, which impacts the way we think and, subsequently, how we relate to others and God Himself. Suffering and trauma does not end with the individual but instead ripples throughout families, communities, and even generations.
Suffering is Unique to Each Person
Each personal experience of suffering is unique; even two people who have experienced the same suffering have different perceptions and subsequent impacts from the suffering. Therefore it is true when people say that “no one could really understand what I went through.” I have seen this performing therapy with thousands of different individuals.
The stories of suffering often have significant overlap but are nuanced in the way that they are internalized. The unique experience of suffering can be lonely evidenced by the following words, “I am alone in this, and no one gets me. No one ever will.” “You have not been through what I have been through; how could you even begin to help me?” There is a profound struggle in suffering alone that exacerbates the pain delved out by the suffering itself.
Various Scriptures speak to Christians being united with the sufferings of Christ (Rom 6:6, Rom 8:36, 2 Cor 4:11, Gal 2:20, Col 2:20, 2 Tim 2:11). The mystery of our union with Christ provides us with significant hope during unspeakable pain. Contemplating this mystery provides a ray of light amid complete darkness allowing us to have some hope that God may not have abandoned us. In the middle of suffering, God is walking alongside the people of God and providing comfort through the Holy Spirit as we feel our pain in all of its complexity.
Jesus and the Suffering of the People of God
Jesus laid his authority aside, choosing to suffer for His people so that he could adopt us into his family (Phil 2:6; Heb 12:2). If there was ever someone who suffered unjustly, it was Jesus. The individuals who beat, ridiculed, and stripped Jesus of His clothes were created through Him (John 1:3) and had no right to do anything except worship Jesus. Here they were ripping his flesh from his body and making a mockery of Him. Jesus could have stopped them, but He suffered and laid his authority and right to overcome the suffering (Phil 2:6-8). He was experiencing in that present moment for the future hope of calling us His children.
During His suffering, Jesus suffered tremendous physical and emotional abuse and therefore understands suffering. Jesus went through the ultimate experience of being forsaken so that we would always have the hope of connection and protection. Jesus experienced the ultimate experience of darkness so that we would always have light and hope even in the midst of profound suffering; Jesus experienced the full weight of brokenness and trauma so that we would have hope in every circumstance. As a human, we see that Jesus experienced deep anguish to the point of sweating blood and experienced a disconnection from His Father and, in some sense, from His own self that we cannot begin to fathom (Matt 27:46).
More specifically, Jesus has taken on our specific experiences of suffering, giving us a High Priest who sympathizes with every weakness of His people (Heb 4:15). Jesus did not just experience suffering in a generalized way but took on our specific sufferings for us so that when we suffer, Christ suffers with us. Our union with the life of Christ means that the specific and unique darkness that you are going through or have been through has been experienced by Christ Himself. As a result, our sufferings move us into deeper communion with Christ as we are reminded that Jesus took on our emotional turmoil, abuse, and interpersonal hurt on himself, and intimately feels our pain.
Since our lives are hidden in Christ, we not only suffered with Him but were also raised to life in Christ and the same power that raised Christ from the dead lives in us (Rom 6:5). This reality provides us with hope that we may experience resilience in the face of trauma. Similar to how we realize that death has been defeated, so we no longer have to fear death, we realize that our specific hurts and sufferings have been defeated through the resurrection of Christ. The Holy Spirit lives within every Christian with all of the same power that resurrected Jesus Christ who unlocks all that we need for experiencing restorative power that can make meaning out of suffering (Rom 8:11). Christians sharing in the sufferings of Christ reminds them that they are never alone. Christians sharing in the resurrection of Christ also reminds them that Jesus has defeated every scheme Satan has used to attempt to destroy the people of God and ensures that all things work out for their good.
We can rest in the fact that since God used the cross for the good of Jesus and the good of His people, He can use all things for their good. That does not mean we have to understand how or why, but it does mean God’s power is greater than the power of evil. Please this Good Friday contemplate your union with Christ as an act of spiritual transformation. Contemplating our union with Christ provides us with an unshakable hope that allows us to grieve and experience the full range of emotional hurt brought on from the sufferings and traumas of this world, knowing that Jesus has walked and is walking with us through the valley and darkness of our trauma. Having Jesus walk with us through our trauma provides us with a hope that is based on our status as His children who are connected with Christ in His defeat of all evil. As a result, we can rest in Jesus, who has also conquered all the evil that is currently impacting us and our world. This does not mean that we become stoics, but it does mean that we are able to experience suffering with resilience and hope in Christ alone.