How to Find Hope in the Midst of Suffering

  • by Philip Long

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Part 1: How To Find God In A Painful Life

“Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book!” – Job

In the basement of my parents’ house my thoughts were tattered. I’d locked myself down there. I didn’t want to come out.  I wanted no human contact save family. And I was deeply angry with God.

“Are not my days few? Then cease, and leave me alone, that I may find a little cheer.” – Job

I was in college and at home for the summer. My burden was an anxiety disorder which made my heart race. I wasn’t sleeping. Seemingly odd things like passing the plate in church tortured me. I was afraid people would notice my hands shaking.

Simple activities, like ordering a meal at McDonalds had my hands sweaty and voice cracking. Groups of people made me want to crawl out of my skin. My only freedom was at home alone. I was in inner distress.

There, I took up my drawing pad and pencil.
I drew Jesus on a cross. Lines deep and hard.
My pain was too real to not allow my anger to cut deep grooves into the paper.
I then drew Jesus in the garden.
His head against a rock, moaning, crying out to God.
His face was a mask of wrinkled flesh, his body hunched in pain and sweating blood.
The dark trees I drew around him spoke of fears within, fears without.

I remember at the time thinking, You’re so dramatic Phil. You’re just having trouble sleeping and are feeling anxious, so you go drawing Jesus in the Garden. You’re pathetic. Thoughts like these continued. Self-loathing, accusation and pain swirled into an inner storm unlike any I’d known.

Today I’ve been through many of these storms. And now, I honestly believe that it was not dramatic in the least to draw Jesus in the Garden and on the cross. It’s right to see the parallels between my hurt and the pain of my Savior. There is a great solidarity and union between my pain and Jesus’.

This is what the book of Job teaches me. Our suffering, whether big or small does have a point. And not a only a point, but deep significance.

Job constantly screams out to God. His eyes are ever upward in anger and in hope.

“Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face.” – Job

Is Job honored simply because he doesn’t curse God? No, Job is honored because he positively pours out his soul before his maker. He voices all his anger, all his rage, all his questions, leaving no stone unturned. This act of baring his soul, holding nothing back, shows the tenacity of Job’s belief that God is indeed good.

However, his friends heap pain on pain, ever increasing their accusations towards Job.

“Is not your evil abundant? There is no end to your iniquities.” – Eliphaz

In their minds, either Job is in the wrong or God is. Since God can’t be in the wrong, then surely Job is. He’d done something to deserve his personal horror. Simple.

And when Job goes too far, buying into his friends’ formulaic argument, and hinting that God is in the wrong, God rebukes him. But it’s a rebuke that comes with what Job has been wanting all along, God’s presence. And it is a rebuke from a friend.

Then in a glorious reversal of the entire book, in which Job’s been run over not only by Satan, but by his friends, God says,

“My anger burns against you [Eliphaz] and your two friends for you have not spoken right, as my servant Job has.”

Ultimately Job is a Christ figure. If Job loses everything, God in Jesus loses more. Imagine God’s feelings toward Job as He observes Him in pain. He’s not distant to Job’s pain. And Jesus, who is fully God, brings this home. Jesus comes from heaven to earth to suffer.

“For I know that my redeemer lives, and at the last day he will stand upon the earth.” – Job

Jesus is born into violence, forced into exile as babies murdered by a paranoid tyrant. In his ministry Jesus' life was constantly threatened.

Jesus is bereft of friends,
Comforters.

He is maligned,
Accused of blasphemy
By blasphemers,
And nailed to a cross,
A cursed death.

He moves forward for His hope,
Our joy.

And to bring it home, Jesus opens himself to the wrath of God for all our evil.

Just try to imagine the ability an infinite God has to experience pain. He was tortured unimaginably for us.

So what can we add? Nothing. But we can participate, “fill-up” and reflect in our distresses the love of a Father, the loyalty of a Son and the power of a Spirit. We can suffer well, ever bringing our pain to our Father who honors us, and says, “My child speaks true of me.”

We often will not know what our hurt is accomplishing, but Christ’s death is our guarantee that God won’t waste a tear.

Our tenacious belief in a relational God who is good is our only hope through and in our hurt. But this tenacity doesn’t come from us, for we are extremely weak. Tenacity is achieved by very real nails driven through very real wrists on a very real cross. And today Jesus prays for us without ceasing before his Father and we are filled with the Holy Spirit to suffer as well.

If we look to Job, the Cross and the Spirit, we can know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that our suffering is never insignificant. We will be drawn through our temporary sufferings into glories unfathomable. God is worth it.