the gospel and suffering

“I want to be clear…God does not identify with our pain because he lost his Son…we are able to identify with his pain through the loss of ours.”


Those are the words of my friend, spoken at the funeral of his toddler son. They are words that knock me down and rock my soul. Here is a man committed to focusing on the Father and the sacrifice of his Son, regardless of what his own painful circumstances might be.


Actually, that’s not true. It is more accurately said that here is a man who is committed to focusing on the Father and the sacrifice of his Son even more so because of his own painful circumstances. This father friend of mine and his treasured wife have been calling on those around them to proclaim the truth to them. They are begging to hear, to be reminded, to be given focus.  They want to identify with the pain of a perfect Father who willingly gave up his Son. They are looking for deeper connection with Christ.


For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.            2 Corinthians 1:5


This is what we do when we suffer. This is what we do when we are blasted by extreme loss: we seek comfort in Christ. We allow our own suffering to draw us to him and identify with him. The gospel is even more beautiful when it is seen through the lens of suffering. Suffering gives shape and texture to the abstract.


God gave himself for our sin. This is a truth we can easily keep distant and somewhat out of focus in our daily lives. He willingly suffered loss and hurt and pain so that we might be with him. Our hearts ache in loss because we are created in his image. We ache when death comes because the Father aches when death comes.


Our tendency—our natural reaction—so often in these hurtful times is to blame God or be angry with him. But death and pain and loss are unnatural because they aren’t they way God intended this to be. Sin is where our anger should be directed; the sin of all of us. Sin has brought about death and none of us are exempt; all contribute, all are sinners.


And this is why we should hope in heartache and suffering. This is why we should, even in pain, press hard into the hope of resurrection. We should lean in to the offer of Christ to come and abide in him.


We’d prefer to make sense of the senseless; to find some thought, some action, some belief that would make us feel “okay” with the death and brokenness of this world. Tragedy strikes and the world clamors for answers. Everyone seems to try their hand at a catchy phrase or sentence that sums up the reasons why we need to accept it and move on. We often just want the pain to go away or the sorrow to be eased.


But the tension is right and real. Death is wrong, regardless of age or circumstance. It’s wrong and unnatural. And tragic loss like my friends have recently experienced is even more wrong. The Bible does not offer a solution that makes the sorrow go away. It does one better. The Bible promises comfort from God our Father, hope through Christ our Savior, and power from the Holy Spirit to make it through.


There is comfort and hope and power to make it through. There is an invitation to abide in the depths of God’s love and grace and have life in the midst of death and pain. There is Christ and we are called towards him.


I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.  Philippians 3:10-11



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