Hope in Suffering
What’s the Christian way to react to suffering? Was Jeremiah in the right when he wrote these words in Lamentations 3:16-20?
“He [the LORD] has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, ‘My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the LORD.’ Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.”
Yes, it was fitting for Jeremiah, a child of God, to cry out in despair. His city of Jerusalem was defeated and the people had been deported into exile. He also endured great suffering, and has been called the weeping prophet. Nothing about his situation offered him hope.
The old saying from Ma in Little House on the Prairie, that there is no great loss without some small gain, did not hold true here. There was no silver lining. Hope in suffering doesn’t come from trying to “find the good in it” or trying to peek into the hidden purposes of God. As Jeremiah said in the very next verses, our hope in suffering comes from something outside of and greater than our situation. He writes in 3:21-26:
“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.”
Sometimes there are silver linings and sometimes there are none. If you only find hope in the silver linings, then your hope will vanish when the silver linings do. But if your hope is in the Lord’s faithfulness, then in your suffering you will find yourself persecuted but not abandoned. You’ll certainly be struck down, but you won’t be destroyed. When all hope for improvement in your situation seems lost, and the only hope you have for your loved is that he or she will be raised to life on the day of Christ’s return (along with all others who have died in the Lord), that is still a LOT of hope.
How are God and suffering related? God didn’t create evil and problems and suffering. Man brought sin and death into the world when tempted by the evil serpent. But when Christ came, God entered into our suffering to experience it and heal us through the cross. Dear Christian, you are free to call a spade a spade. When you suffer, it’s bad. God is faithful to use all things for our good, but that doesn’t make all things good. Dan wrote more about Christian suffering in his article.
When we learned of complication upon complication for our newborn in April, hope dwindled to nothing. I remembered a song I love called, “Hope in a Maybe” by Aaron Espe. I wept as I felt like my hope was “maybe our baby will make it, and maybe he won’t.” But then I remembered that our hope comes from the Lord who made the heavens and the earth. Even if my baby didn’t make it, even that great sorrow would be turned into joy on the last day. My hope is in the resurrection of the body because of the resurrection of my Lord.
Since having taken that trip to the depths of despair, our baby has improved. At the time of writing this, we have a positive outlook for our boy. Such blessings and good news give situational hope, and that is nice to have. But our eternal hope cannot be shaken, no matter what happens.