Editorial: Lessons from the Ultimate Sufferer

Everyone suffers. It is an inescapable part of life in a fallen world. C.S. Lewis said it well: “Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.”[1]

Some of us suffer very little, while others are called to weather nearly unbearable storms. Suffering may be primarily physical, but emotional and mental anguish are every bit as real, arduous and debilitating. What can make suffering particularly intolerable is the absence of anyone who understands. But we are never without Someone who understands (Heb 4:15; 1Pe 2:21-24). A look at the Ultimate Sufferer, our Lord Jesus Christ, not only confirms that He knows our pain, but teaches us what we can know about it. Perhaps these reminders may help to make our suffering more bearable.

For one, a call to suffer does not mean we are not loved. The Father’s love for the Son is eternal (Joh 17:24), and although that love was verbally expressed at particular points in the life of Christ (Mat 3:17; 17:5), there was no point within that life where His Father’s love ceased. Even while enduring the excruciating pain of Calvary, Jesus never questioned the love of His Father. Nor should we. He loves us no less when we suffer.

Second, suffering is not necessarily punishment for our failures. It can be (Hebrews 12), but a look at the cross tells us that it might not be. Christ’s suffering was for our sins, being sinless Himself. Even the life of Job confirms that not all trials are the result of personal sin, notwithstanding the relentless accusations of his friends. We tend to obsess over what personal failings may be the reason for our suffering. However, it’s more important to see suffering’s potential than to determine its cause.

Third, suffering may achieve a purpose for someone other than yourself. It may accomplish a refining work in our own lives, removing the dross of selfishness or other impurities. But a look at the cross teaches us that our pain may realize a purpose for others. Indeed, Christ “suffered for us” and we were healed by His stripes (1Pe 2:21,24). The experience of Joseph, whose suffering extended over many years, reminds us that personal hardship may lead to the blessing of others. His rise to power from prison saved not only his family but the nation of Egypt and other hungry souls who came to him. Also, we may wonder how many soldiers chained to Paul during his painful imprisonment experienced the liberating power of the gospel as he faithfully witnessed to them.

A final reminder is that glory will always follow suffering that is in God’s will (2Ti 2:12). We may suffer when we are out of God’s will. Suffering in itself does not lead to glory. But Jesus’ suffering did, for He always did the will of His Father. The pain of Good Friday led to the glory of Easter Sunday. Glory awaits us also and “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom 8:18 KJV). So let us keep our eyes on the Ultimate Sufferer and take heart from lessons learned at the foot of His cross.

[1] C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York, NY: Macmillan, 1944).