Jesus Understands Our Pain

Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death.

Heb. 2:14 NLT

As a pastor, many parishioners ask, “How do you know that God cares?” We know God cares because Jesus came among us, he experienced our suffering, and he knew all our temptations and trials. God in Christ did not remain aloof, cast an disapproving eye, and remain indifferent to our desperate plight. Out of love, Jesus set aside his heavenly status and was rejected, betrayed, and humiliated. Jesus understands every life struggle that we have ever experienced or will ever face. Jesus understands everything.

Jesus Christ did not remain at base headquarters, receiving reports of the world’s suffering from below and shouting a few encouraging words to us from a safe distance. No, He  . . . came down where we live in the front line trenches  . . . where we contend with our anxieties and the feeling of emptiness and futility, where we sin and suffer guilt, and where we must finally die. There is nothing that he did not endure with us. He understands everything.

Helmut ThielickeChrist and the Meaning of Life, trans. John W. Doberstein (New York: Harper, 1962), 18.

Not Designed to Destroy Our Faith

Trials and Tribulations

I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer.

Rev. 2:9-10

We live in the midst of the fallout of the fall: sin has affected every area of creation and all aspects of our lives. Disappointment, pain, and trouble are significant ingredients of our daily lives. Ill-timed, unexpected tragedies can shape our lives for the better or make our hearts hard through bitterness. Our choice: trust that God is sovereignly working or become angry that life is not going our way.

The Bible teaches that is not God’s will that people sin. However, when people sin against us, their actions become God’s will for us. Because of the Cross of Christ, we can trust that God has something bigger and better planned through our being ill-treated, misunderstood, hurt, and disappointed.

The Lord is working his purposes in and through our circumstances: the molding of our character, the testing of our faith, and the ministry of Christ’s life. “And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering” (Romans 8:17 NLT).

Suffering isn’t designed by God to destroy our faith but to intensify it. That will never happen, however, if we fail to look beyond the pain to the purpose of our loving heavenly Father. His design is to knock out from underneath us every false prop so that we might rely wholly on him. His aim is to create in us such desperation that we have nowhere else to look but to his promises and abiding presence.

Sam Storms, To the One Who Conquers: 50 Daily Meditations on the Seven Letters of Revelation 2-3 (Crossway, 2008).

Enclosed in God

God in and Through Our Circumstances

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

Gen. 50:20 NIV

We live in the midst of the fallout of the fall: sin has affected every area of creation and all aspects of our lives. Disappointment, pain, and trouble are significant ingredients of our daily lives. Ill-timed, unexpected tragedies can shape our lives for the better or make our hearts hard through bitterness. Our choice: trust that God is sovereignly working or become angry that life is not going our way.

The Bible teaches that is not God’s will that people sin. However, when people sin against us, their actions become God’s will for us. Because of the Cross of Christ, we can trust that God has something bigger and better planned through our being ill-treated, misunderstood, hurt, and disappointed.

The Lord is working his purposes in and through our circumstances: the molding of our character, the testing of our faith, and the ministry of Christ’s life. Through trials, the Lord is giving us our heart’s desire: Christlikeness. “And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering” (Romans 8:17 NLT).

Now it seems to me as if you and I are enclosed in God. An arrow comes from the enemy’s bow. A man hates me writes an anonymous letter. Someone defrauds me. Some woman sets an unkind story afloat about me. The evil travels toward me. If God liked, He could let the arrow pass this way or that. But if my God opens and permits the evil to pass through His encompassing power to my heart, by the time it has passed through God to me, it has become God’s will for me. He permits it, and that is His will for my life. I do not say that the man will escape his just doom. God will deal with him. I am not going to worry myself about him.

In early days, I have taken infinite pains to avert the evil that men wished to do me, or perhaps to repay them, or to show that the evil was perfectly unwarranted. I confess that I have ceased to worry about it. If you silence one man you will start twenty more. It is ever so much better for peace of mind to accept the will of God, to accept His permission and His appointment, to look up into His face, and say, ‘Even so, Father.’

F. B. Meyer, The Christ-Life for Your Life (Chicago: Moody Press, no date), 121.

“Sufferings Yielded to You”

Ineradicable Faith

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Rev. 7:13-14 (ESV)

How can I find the words to praise you, most courageous brethren? How can I compose a speech worthy of the strength of your heart and your perseverance in faith? You endured questioning by the cruellest tortures right through to the glorious end. You did not yield to suffering, but the sufferings yielded to you. The tortures did not bring the end of your torment, but the crown of martyrdom did. The intensification of the tortures went on and on, not to break down the steadfast faith but to send the men of God the sooner to their Lord.

The crowds who were present wondered as they saw the heavenly battle of God, Christ’s spiritual battle, as they saw his servants standing with free voices and undamaged minds, strong with divine strength. They were deprived, it is true, of the weapons of this world, but they were armed with the arms of faith. Tortured they stood, yet stronger than their torturers. Their limbs, beaten and torn as they were, still defeated the instruments that had beaten and torn them.

The cruellest beatings, repeatedly administered, could not overcome their ineradicable faith, even when their very entrails were torn open and at length the servants of God had no limbs left to be beaten, but only wounds. Blood was flowing that might quench the flames of persecution, that might subdue the fires of Gehenna itself. What a spectacle that was for the Lord – how sublime, how great, how acceptable to the eyes of God because it showed the allegiance and devotion of his soldiers! As the Psalms say, when the Holy Spirit speaks to us and warns us: Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful (Psalm 116:15). Precious is the death that has bought immortality at the cost of its blood and received the crown of God as the consummation of its virtues!

How Christ rejoiced! How willingly he fought and conquered in such servants, protecting their faith and giving to the believers all that they needed! He was present at his own battle, he lifted up his champions, the proclaimers of his name, he gave them strength and new spirit. And he who once conquered death for us still and always conquers it within us.

O happy Church of ours, lit up by the honour of God’s kindness, now purified by the blood of our glorious martyrs! Once she shone white through the works of the brethren; now she has become purple with the blood of the martyrs. Among her flowers there bloom both white lilies and red roses.

Now let each of us strive for the highest of one of these honours. Let each of us be crowned either with the white crown of labours or the purple crown of suffering.

St. Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 10:2-3,5.

Why Do You Turn Your Face Away?

The Face of God

“Come,” says my heart, “seek God’s face”;your face, LORD, do I seek! Do not hide your face from me; do not repel your servant in anger. You are my help; do not cast me off; do not forsake me, God my savior! Even if my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will take me in.

Psa. 27:8-10 (NAB)

Why do you turn your face away? We think that God has turned his face away from us when we find ourselves suffering, so that shadows overwhelm our feelings and stop our eyes from seeing the brilliance of the truth. All the same, if God touches our intellect and chooses to become present to our minds then we will be certain that nothing can lead us into darkness.

A man’s face shines out more than the rest of his body and it is by the face that we perceive strangers and recognise our friends. How much more, then, is the face of God able to bring illumination to whoever he looks at!

The apostle Paul has something important to say about this, as about so many other things. He is a true interpreter of Christ for us, bringing him to our understanding through well-chosen words and images. He says: It is the same God that said, ‘Let there be light shining out of darkness’, who has shone in our minds to radiate the light of the knowledge of God’s glory, the glory on the face of Christ. We have heard where Christ shines in us: he is the eternal brilliant illumination of souls, whom the Father sent into the world so that his face should shine on us and permit us to contemplate eternal and heavenly truths – we who had been plunged in earthly darkness.

What shall I say about Christ, when even the apostle Peter said to the man who had been lame from birth Look upon us? The cripple looked at Peter and found light by the grace of faith: unless he had faithfully believed he could not have received healing.

When there was so much glory to be seen among the Apostles, Zachaeus, hearing that the Lord Jesus was passing by, climbed a tree because he was small and weak and could not see the Lord through the crowd. He saw Christ and he found light. He saw Christ and instead of robbing others of their goods he began to give away his own.

Why do you turn your face away? Let us read it thus: even if you do turn your face away from us, Lord, its light is still imprinted upon us. We hold it in our hearts and our innermost feelings are transformed by its light.

For if you truly turn your face away, Lord, no-one can survive.

St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, Explanations of the Psalms

HT: Universalis