The Story and the Suffering
The Bible has a lot to say about human suffering. Most believers can reference or quote a few passages that speak to the pains and sorrows we face in life. We all know the story of Job. Most of us have probably memorized Romans 8:28. We might have a list of go-to passages that give us hope and encouragement during a trial such as that in Isaiah 43:1, "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine." We may turn to passages like James 1:2-4 to remind ourselves that God is doing something important through our trials—necessary and eternal work.
Certainly, there is much hope found in such passages and for good reason. Many of them give us theological truths to anchor our hearts during seasons of suffering. Such verses remind us that we are not alone and that God is with us. Even more, they remind us God has a plan and an eternal purpose for our trials.
In addition to turning to specific verses to give us hope in our suffering, it’s also important that we turn to The Story of Scripture. The Bible’s great meta-story is one we need to review and rehearse for it helps us understand the place of suffering in our lives. It answers those big questions we often ask when faced with hardship and trials such as “Why?” “How long?” and "Will I survive this?"
What is that meta-story? The story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration.
Rehearse the Story
The story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration is the Story of which we need to remind ourselves when we want to understand our suffering. It’s the story of the Bible. This grand story starts with the Story of Creation. It tells us that God created the world and what it was like in the beginning: a place of perfect harmony and peace. Everything worked as it should. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, lived in right relationship with their Maker and with one another. They found joy in their work together. They communicated without conflict. They were united with each other and had no barriers between them. This story tells us that the ache and longing we feel for wholeness and healing is because things are not as they were created to be. We all have that feeling that something isn’t right in this world, something is missing. Deep in our bones, we know that this world is not as it should be. The Story of Creation explains those longings.
That perfect place God created was ruined when Adam and Eve listened to and believed Satan's lies. They desired to be like God and ate the fruit he instructed them not to eat. Their eyes were opened, and sin entered the world. They felt shame and covered themselves—and we've done the same ever since. We've inherited our first parent’s sin nature and spend our lives hiding and covering from God. When our heart cries out, "Why is life so hard? Why am I suffering so much?" we recall the Story of the Fall and remember that sin is the cause for all the brokenness and sorrow we feel in this life—our own sin, the sin of others against us, the effects of sin on the created world which produces disease and the breakdown of all things.
After their sin, God gave Adam and Eve the consequences due for their sin and they were expelled from the Garden. But before they left, God gave them this promise: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). The rest of the Old Testament tells the story of sin. It shows the depths of our depravity and our need for salvation. It also reveals how God pushed forward his plan to fulfill that promise to redeem mankind.
When we want to know what God is doing about our suffering, we turn our hurting heart to the Story of Redemption. At just the perfect time in history, God stepped into the Story. He covered himself with human flesh and lived the life we could not live. Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, faced temptation, sorrow, rejection, pain, and suffering but never sinned. He showed the world who God was through his life. He taught and healed and loved and opened people's eyes to see what they needed most. He then bore the curse for sin and conquered evil at the cross. Through faith in his blood shed for us, we are forgiven of our sins and brought into the family of God.
As we rehearse the Story of Redemption, we remember that Jesus is the Man of Sorrows who is familiar with grief. He knows what it is to face loss, abandonment, poverty, sickness, and temptation. We remember that his grace is sufficient to bear all our burdens, cares, sorrows, and sin. We remember we have not only eternal hope but also present hope because of what Jesus did for us in his perfect life and sacrificial death. We remember that our personal suffering unites us to our suffering Savior, making us more like him. Yet we are united to him not only in our suffering, but in our comfort as well (2 Corinthians 1). We find rest in the truth that because God went to great lengths to rescue and redeem us from sin, he will certainly keep and preserve us during our current trial. We cling to the promise that Jesus is making all things new, including our own hearts (Revelation 21:5).
When the pain and sorrow is heavy and we cry out, “How long?” we turn to the Story of Restoration and know that what we experience in this life is not forever. Eternity is coming. Christ will return once and for all and sin, sorrow, and pain will be no more. We will be transformed and reign with Christ forever. The Apostle Paul encourages us in our suffering to look to the glory to come: "For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
Scripture has quite a lot to say about suffering. Many verses give us great hope and comfort during our trials. But the Story, the grand Story of what God has done and is doing, is one we need to turn to time and time again. It’s one we need to rehearse. As a child of God, it's your Story. It’s my Story. Let's tell it to one another. Until that day when we can turn the page to the next chapter, the one titled: Eternity.
Christina Fox is a graduate of Covenant College and received her Master’s in Counseling from Palm Beach Atlantic University. She serves on the national women’s ministry team of the PCA and is the editor of enCourage. Christina is a conference and retreat speaker and writes for a number of Christian ministries including TGC and Ligonier. She is the author of A Heart Set Free: A Journey to Hope through the Psalms of Lament and Closer Than a Sister: How Union with Christ Helps Friendships to Flourish. You can find her at www.christinafox.com, @christinarfox and on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/ChristinaFoxAuthor.