Suffering Means You’re Human

Jesus promised us so much joy and victory following him that it can be disorienting to encounter enduring times of pain and suffering. I’ve known many followers of Jesus who wrestle more with the perplexity of how God could have “allowed” them to suffer than the suffering itself would have demanded. It at least adds another layer of pain to whatever we face.

In our quest to live comfortable, happy lives, we forget that plenty of Scriptures also talk about suffering and how God inhabits them to further his work in us and his purpose in the world. Why else would we need a refuge, a deliverer, and a Redeemer? When the Psalmist said that God delivers us from all of our afflictions, doesn’t that mean we had to be in them first? And that deliverance almost always has more in mind than just removing it.

Any follower of Jesus needs a worldview that includes pain and trouble as much as joy and laughter. It doesn’t mean God causes our suffering or even allows it in any volitional sense. They are the result of living in a world out of sync with its Creator. You will no doubt encounter both along your journey, and learning how to rejoice in good times and how to lean into him through difficult ones will be critical to God’s unfolding love in your heart.

As part of ours this summer, Sara and I read Waymaker by Ann Voskamp. We found a lot in this book that touched us and expanded our view of God. This brief section was one of those, talking about the complexity of love and pain in a fallen Creation.

Love lives at peace with pain, and the two will never divorce. Because to love is to be tender enough to know suffering, to be vulnerable enough to know hurt, and the only way to divorce your way from pain is to divorce yourself from any love.”

The destiny we all ultimately dream of is a destination where we are ultimately seen, safe, soothed, and secure! Even nightmares of loss and tragedy and grief can still become an unexpected awakening to tender dreams, if there are ways—even in the dark places—to be seen and known, safe and secure . . . Wherever we are always accepted and never alone, never abandoned, our deepest dreams can come true even in the midst of nightmares.

I had high hopes of waking to a dream different from both of our mothers. No graves. No slammed doors or cold wars, no lightning-bolt diagnosis or stalking depression, no abandonment or estrangement, no cascading job loss or piling bills or empty arms. No trauma from the straight-out-of-nowhere tragedy, the unlikely addictions, the turned distractions, the knife-in-the-back betrayal, the flat-out rejection, or the entirely suffocating personal failure you can’t escape because you can’t escape out of your own skin. Why do we think that our life will be the one that finds a way to easier roads? Why in the world did I? It’s when we expect life to be easy that it becomes hard.

Buy the lie that your life is supposed to be heaven on earth, and suffering can be a torturous hell. But life is suffering, and suffering is but the cross we bear, part of earth’s topography to cross on our way to heaven. I wouldn’t know it for years: Screens sell pipe dreams. Every screen is trying to sell the lie to you-from Hollywood to Netflix to Instagram–the lie that all you have to do is buy this, work out like this, wear this, style it like this, believe this, pursue this, get a career like this, find someone like this, and you, too, can find the way to a perfect life, just like this. But buy any perfectly filtered and marketing-framed illusion, and you end up painfully disillusioned. Regardless of what Instagram or all the glossy ads are shilling, your suffering isn’t some unique anomaly; suffering is the universal experience of all humanity. Suffering doesn’t mean you’re cursed, suffering means you’re human. The question isn’t “Why is there suffering in my life?” but “Why wouldn’t there be suffering?”

Because such is life in a broken world. The question is, “What way will you bear your suffering?” I didn’t know it then, and I am still learning this now: Life is really hard because that is the reality of being alive.

When you can face suffering, knowing it does not prove God loves you any less or is punishing you for some reason, then you are ready to grow through your darker seasons and love others more fully in theirs.