What does it mean to suffer in this world? It could be the result of any number of things, including temptation, sin, being sinned against, unfulfilled desires, death of a loved one, physical or emotional pain, sickness, etc. Sometimes it’s sudden and unexpected. Sometimes it’s a steady ache that seems to never go away. Whatever it is, we should recognize that we all struggle, though it may look different for each person and it may not always be “visible” to you.
Sleeping for Sorrow
And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” (Luke 22:45-46)
The disciples were so burdened by their sorrow, so saddened by what was taking place, they could not even stay awake. And Jesus knew that this state of sorrow could easily lead them into temptation. Sorrow can feel paralyzing. They could not see past their pain. They could not see that their sorrow would soon turn to joy. So what does he tell them to do? Watch and pray! The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Watch and pray!
Knowing what suffering looks like can help us stay awake and fix our eyes on Jesus, our only hope.
Suffering is real. I have a tendency to feel that my suffering is somehow less significant or less real than others. Just like we might think we don’t have a good testimony if we haven’t experienced drugs or a difficult childhood, we don’t think our suffering is valid because it’s not violence or poverty or persecution, or whatever “worse” suffering you are comparing yourself to that day.
It’s easier to see suffering and have compassion when it’s something that is easily identifiable by the world as suffering: death of a loved one, cancer or other sickness, effects of violence, or natural disasters. But when you talk about what I like to call invisible suffering, like loneliness or difficult parenting or headaches or a hard marriage or past sin or guilt, or maybe just anything that seems like a daily or continuous struggle or temptation; accepting it as suffering can become more difficult. At least for me—I feel like people would look at me and wonder, “What’s so hard about your life? Why do you say you are suffering?” But often many of us suffer silently, so we must show compassion in all suffering, and know that God cares about all of it, and we too should pray for eyes to see it in others. The sufferings of the world seem endless, but we have a Savior, Jesus. There is the gospel that is sufficient for all of life’s troubles. There is hope!
So, admission of suffering should not be interpreted as a lack of faith—it is in faith that we admit our weakness and rely on the One who is strong, who will wipe away every tear in the end.
Suffering always hurts. Just because suffering isn’t dramatic or sudden or tragic, or shared publicly, doesn’t invalidate it. God is interested in every part of our lives, in all of our suffering. And he knows. He knows what it is like and he is able to sympathize.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
Suffering is universal and expected. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:22-23)
So even (especially) for the Christian, it is not just a possibility that we might suffer, it is a certainty. It can come in the form of sudden hard news, or in the daily reminders that we are still on the wrong side of heaven. It can be physical or emotional, temporary or long-term. It could be something like watching someone you love suffer, or loving someone who is hard to love, who may hurt or disappoint us often.
Even if you don’t think you have ever really suffered, sin and the fight against it is a cause for suffering. If it is true that we are all sinners, then it is true that we are all sufferers. I find that a lot of my suffering comes from my own sin or the effects of sin in the world, but that is not always the case. Whatever it is though, all this suffering points to the reality that we are meant for something greater. And the truth is, Christ promises to meet us in our suffering and be with us always—he does not promise to take it away.
Since suffering is proof that the world is not as it should be, and that won’t change until heaven, we will always be experiencing some type of suffering while we’re here.
For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake… (Philippians 1:29)
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
Christ’s blood has already been shed and the battle is already won. He will wipe away our tears and pain will be no more. Everything sad is coming untrue.