“Mercy in Suffering”

1 Peter 2:21-25


            Benjamin Franklin once said that there are two certainties in life … death and taxes. We can add another to that short list … suffering. We all know what suffering is and we face it in some form every day. All we need to do is turn on the TV or go to a news sight online. It seems like every week there is a shooting somewhere, there are natural disasters, children are going hungry, the poor struggle and injustice deprives citizens of their rights and freedom.

            If we zoom in closer to home, there is evidence of personal struggles around us. The economy tanks and people lose their jobs, inflation goes up and people can’t afford certain things. Families experience the turmoil of problems at home and even breakups. Our own bodies suffer as we age. Disease, cancer, and injury become uninvited companions. Lost dreams, depression, and dementia plague us. Sooner or later, we all experience suffering of some kind or another.

            The existence of suffering has led many people to reject Christianity. You hear things like, “If God is so good and caring, why is there suffering in the world? Why do bad things happen to good people?”I get it, suffering stinks. There is not beating around the bush, there’s no trying to sugar coat it. But the thing is, God’s Word doesn’t tell us that life is going to always be sunshine and cupcakes. The Bible very clearly lays out there for us that life is going to be messy, it is going to be hard. There is going to be pain and suffering. We live in a severely messed up and broken world.

            During the season of Lent, we and other Christians especially acknowledge the reality of suffering. But Lent also provides us with a new lens in which to view and understand suffering. Through the lens of God’s mercy we see a God who has entered into our suffering to bear our suffering and to bring us healing.

            So, why is there suffering in the world? Well, that’s a loaded question, but ultimately the Bible says because of sin being in the world. We need to understand that in the beginning, God created everything perfectly. Things were good and very good. There was no suffering. But then man rebelled against God and His perfect plan. They were tempted by the serpent and made to believe they knew what was best for them. So they disobeyed God’s simple command of not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and because of their sin of wanting to be God and not trusting Him, suffering was introduced. Genesis 3 lays out the consequences of mankind’s fall into sin. Scripture says that at that time suffering entered the world and thorns and thistles were introduced into our lives.

            So ultimately, the problem is not that there is pain and suffering. It’s not that there is crime and illness and catastrophes which plague life. These are all symptoms of a much deeper problem which has infected all of humanity. The problem is sin. Plain and simple. Oh, and we have all be infected with it, with sin.

            The results of sin are very real, they’re painful. In the book, “Migrants, Sharecroppers and Mountaineers,” a poverty-stricken mother describes an incident in which her husband lost his temper at a preacher who was speaking on the topic of suffering. She says:

            “Then {my husband} did the worst thing he could do: he took the baby, Annie, and he held her right before his face, the minister’s, and he screamed and hollered at him … He told him that here was our little Annie, and she’s never been to the doctor, and the child is sick … and we’ve no money, not for Annie or the other ones or ourselves … Then he told the pastor he was like all the rest, making money off us, and he held our Annie as high as he could, right near the cross, and told God He’d better stop having the ministers speaking for Him, and He should come and see us Himself.”[1]

            This migrant father sums up the dilemma of pain and suffering about as well as it can be expressed. Why are there sick children, and why is there no money and little hope among so many? Maybe you can relate with this. But there is one thing in father’s tirade in which he was wrong. He demanded that God should come down and see for Himself the suffering in this world. God already did. And not only did God see what suffering is like, He experienced it personally. He felt what it’s like. For above all the people in history, no one has suffered like Jesus has.

            You see, Jesus came down to this fallen world and He experienced its imperfections, its ugliness, its cruelty, it suffering. Christ was treated like a second-class citizen with more injustice than we will ever know. He was betrayed by His friends and rejected by His people. He was humiliated, stripped, mocked, ridiculed, and beaten. Peter describes Jesus’s suffering in our reading for us when he says, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When they hurled insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:22-23).

            The cross on which Jesus died was an absolutely horrific sight. The cross was meant to produce supreme suffering. Jesus, whose back was shredded from the scourging which preceded the crucifixion, scrapped against the splintered wood of the cross-beam. Jesus’ body was in a continuous contorted movement as He struggled from a slow suffocation. His pain was excruciating. In fact, this is where we get the word. Excruciating literally means “out of a crucifixion”. Crucifixion is the most terrible experience of pain and suffering that our minds can imagine.

            More than anyone else, Jesus tasted the curse which was brought about by our first parents and their fall into sin. But Jesus also brought about the reversal of that curse. You see, the cross before which the migrant father held up his baby is the very symbol which God shared in our pain and suffering and death. Not only did He share that, Christ experienced it for us. Because of this, we can trust the Lord through all of our suffering because He endured it with us and for us.

            Yes, God knows what suffering in this world is like. Jesus is a wounded healer. Through Christ’s suffering, we are made whole and healed from our greatest ailment, that of the sickness of sin. The apostle Peter says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). Because Jesus definitely dealt with the cause of suffering … with sin … we can trust him to deal compassionately with the symptoms of our suffering … the pain and sorrows we experience in life.

            Because Jesus endured suffering on our behalf, we can endure as well. Peter again says, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). Entering the Christian life does not mean that suffering is automatically withdrawn from us. In fact, it may mean just the opposite.  That because we are a Christian, we will experience more hostility from the world, just as Jesus did. Jesus suffered, and we are called to follow in his footsteps.

            But the cross, it provides us with the strength to endure our sufferings. The cross provides the strength because it transforms suffering. Just as God’s power transformed the horrific sufferings of Jesus on the cross into the ultimate victory of God over sin, so also God’s power can transform our suffering into His means of growth and maturity. We now view suffering with new eyes, from a new perspective. We do so in view of God’s mercy. In mercy, Christ suffered to pay for our sin. Now in our suffering we focus on the never-failing mercy of God and trust in His plan for us.

            Corrie Ten Boom provides us with a powerful example of the transformative power of suffering in view of God’s mercy. Corrie’s family was persecuted by the Nazis for protecting Jews during World War II. Corrie and her sister, Betsy, suffered incredible hardship in the concentration camp in which they were unjustly imprisoned. In the midst of all that mercy, however, Betsy proclaimed a message of transformative faith. When Corrie lamented, cried out about the pit of suffering they were in, Betsy replied: “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.” … Hear that again. “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.” Betsy knew that life is painful, but also that God’s mercy is even more powerful.

            The apostle Peter wrote about Jesus, saying, “By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). During this Lenten season and always, may we remember the horrific suffering which Jesus experienced on the cross for us. But may we also never forget, never forget the healing and hope which came from His sacrifice for us. Let us ever draw upon His healing strength that now comes to us in our suffering. Amen.

            The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.

[1] quoted in Where is God When it Hurts & Disappointments with God by Philip Yancey, 1999. Zondervan, 222


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