Mercy in Suffering

Numbers 21:4-9, 1 Peter 2:21-25 & Matthew 8:14-17

“…by His wounds you have been healed” 1 Peter 2:24

Benjamin Franklin once quipped that there are two certainties we all encounter—death and taxes. But I would add another certainty—suffering. We all face suffering in life! 

We seem to be on the downside of our pandemic.  We hope!  Yet six million people have died from it.  Many are suffering from long term covid which has a serious impact on health.  Russia, through Putin, is aggressively and brutally attacking Ukraine.  Their missiles and bombs indiscriminately aimed at hospitals, women and children, and civilians fleeing from the violence.  We are seeing history repeating itself yet again!  How many Syrians fled as homeless refugees.  How many times has this happened in our world.  And now we have over two million Ukrainian refugees fleeing from their homeland.  We are stressed out.  

But we do not need to go to Europe to look for suffering do we!  Disease, cancer and injury become our uninvited companions. Lost dreams and depression plague us.   

For the most part we can endure our own suffering.  It is the suffering of others, especially children, that bothers us. Famous voices such as Bertrand Russell and Steve Jobs regarded the reality of pain and sorrow to be the clinching argument against the idea of a loving God. But the Bible does not ignore the messy reality of the world. Nowhere does Christianity deny the existence of pain and suffering. Indeed, the Bible unequivocally declares that this is a fallen world, a broken planet.

Lent provides us with a new lens through which to view suffering. That is through the lens of God’s mercy. In it we see a God who entered into our suffering to bear our suffering and to bring healing to us.

Why is there suffering in the world?  We can say suffering is part of our existence on this side of heaven because of our fallen condition. God created the world without suffering. But then we rebelled against God’s perfect plan.  Our relationship with God was shattered. Our world has been broken ever since. 

The root problem is sin and its consequences.  Pain and suffering are symptoms, not the root cause. 

Philip Yancey quotes from the book Migrants, Sharecroppers and Mountaineers, in his book Where Is God When It Hurts © 1999. Zondervan, p. 222.  He shares the story of 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 in a church service:

“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 reverend 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” 

This grief stricken father was angry about his suffering children and his inability to help them.  He puts words to our frustration and anger.  Why are there sick children, and why is there no money and little hope among so many?

Then he demanded that God come down and see for himself the suffering in this world. And that is exactly what God did. Jesus entered our broken world.  Jesus took on in His flesh and bones our brokenness and bore it physically to the cross.  And on that cross He took all the punishment for all the sin of all the people, past, present and future—all humanity—and He absorbed the evil and hatred, the violence, the greed, the prejudice and bigotry, the abuse; all that the evil of all the world focused on that moment and He broke the power of sin and evil.  His suffering and death was not just that of His own.  It was all the suffering of all the world piled on Him while He bore it silently on the cross.  

He could have complained.  He could have retaliated against His false accusers.  He could have pushed the blame and guilt and shame back on us.  He could have asked God to deliver Him from such an unjust death.  But He didn’t.  

He knew of all our suffering.  He knew of all the suffering of all the people; men, women and children from down through the ages.  And He knew our only hope was to stay the course.  

Consider the irony of the phrase, “by His wounds you have been healed” 1 Peter 2:24.  Jesus’ wounds free us from curving in on ourselves.  Jesus’ wounds heal us from selfishness and greed.  Jesus’ wounds free us from being afraid of suffering and pain.  Jesus’ wounds give us the freedom and strength to see God’s hand in blessings even the suffering as a way of shaping and molding us as His beloved children. 

We do not suffer as a result of God’s anger and punishment.  We do not suffer because God does not care.  No one on this side of heaven suffers without God’s knowledge and care for them individually and personally.  

Maybe the challenge for us is to see God at work even in the darkest moments through people who do not give in to the evil; through people who overcome the darkness with the light of God’s love despite the evil that surrounds them. God has entered our world through Jesus.  And now Jesus lives in and through you and me. Do not forget God’s ultimate promise is to make all things right when Jesus returns at His final Second Coming. Our call, our job, our challenge is to hold on to love and let God’s love in Christ fill us, shape us, embolden us and use us in our struggles against the powers of sin and darkness.  

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 hardships in the concentration camp in which they were unjustly incarcerated. In the midst of all that misery, however, Betsy proclaimed a message of transformative faith. When Corrie lamented about the pit of suffering they were in, Betsy replied: “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.” Betsy knew that life is painful but God’s mercy is even more powerful.

“By His wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

source: David Peters, Creative Communications for the Parish

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