Life is full of sorrow, but the good news of Jesus Christ is that God has redeemed even the seemingly pointless sufferings of our lives and made them servant to His purpose. When we choose to embrace the cross then our suffering, like that of our Lord’s, is transformed into something altogether life-giving and healing.
Last night and today my thoughts have fallen toward the Lord Jesus on the cross. What a horrible injustice, from a human perspective, the cross of Christ was! And yet such horrible injustice, in the hands of God, worked itself out unto the salvation of the world! Not only did the Lord redeem my life and yours through His cross, He redeemed all the suffering of fallen humanity. Now there is redemption for our suffering!
It is inevitable that every person will suffer a great deal in his or her life. Existence in this broken world is full of heartache, loneliness, sorrow, and loss. No one is exempt. For many people this alone becomes the cause of their greatest doubts over even the existence of God. I know I have faced it. What reality could there really be beyond this veil of flesh when you take into account all the seemingly random, pointless sufferings that people go through? It just doesn’t add up.
But here is where the cross becomes such a precious thing in the experience of a believer. When we find the hand of the Lord in our suffering-not causing it, not inflicting it upon us for some “higher purpose” mind you-but simply there present, ready to transform it, or rather us through it, into something beautiful, then we are actually delivered through our pain into a life that death itself cannot touch… the resurrection life of the Lord Himself, which passes through the hands of death and through death destroys death and its power over people. What a glorious mystery!
Our response to suffering will make us like one of the two thieves who hung beside the Lord Jesus on the cross. Read the record and you will see that in the beginning they both despised their lot and reviled the Lord in their suffering. Neither one of them had anything good to say about the Lord or about their predicament. Bitterness and resentment was the order of the day. But the Lord Jesus was so different. He was calm, reposed-suffering in agony, yes-yet submitting Himself, not to its ill effects, but to the hand of His Father. At some point the one thief to his side must have beheld something in the Lord that changed his entire outlook. He saw Christ bearing a cross He Himself did not deserve to bear, and doing it with such outstanding grace. He wondered at such a Person. And in the light of such a One he became convinced of his sin, and repented. Then he embraced the cross, saying “Lord, remember me.”
The thief on the other hand, however, embraced no such change. He did not see the Lord in his suffering, rather he saw only punishment, only one more reason to be angry, bitter and spiteful. Our attitude in suffering, when we refuse to embrace the cross, is like his. Our suffering works nothing for us but pain. And in bitterness we resent our past, the people around us, and above all the Lord. Our only looking toward him is to say, “if you are really God and you really care about me, you would bring an end to this suffering of mine.” And when outward deliverance does not come, resentment consumes us and we become hard and closed off toward any kind of inward transformation.
So to go back to what I said in the beginning, when we embrace the cross then our suffering, like that of our Lord’s, is transformed into something altogether life-giving and healing, both for us and for other people. But it all hinges upon our willingness to accept the cross. God is not the author of sin, and He is not the facilitator of our sufferings in life. The world we live in is broken, time and chance happens to us all, and the rain falls on the just and unjust alike. Some things just happen. It can all seem very pointless and random at times, don’t I know it. But the secret is what is going on inside of us. Which thief will we be? In whose path will we follow? One sees only suffering and pain and nothing more, and his end is resentment, bitterness, and reviling. The other sees the hand of God. He sees the Lord Jesus, and he wonders at such a life to the point of embracing His cross. In the end, though there is still suffering, there is the transformation of that life into something healed, whole, and complete. This is what the Lord wants for each and every one of us. May He somehow, by His grace, make it so.