Suffering Is Useful for You
Hebrews 2:9-18 (ESV) But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Behold, I and the children God has given me.” Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
As we see so much suffering in the world around us and our own lives, we ask, “Why do we suffer?” This is an important question and troubles many people. Even Christians ask sometimes, “If God is good and all-powerful, then how could He let us suffer evil, pain, and death? Why doesn’t He do something to help us out of our misery?”
God’s Word gives us several ways to think about this question, both Law answers and Gospel answers. A definite Law answer to the question is that, since God created us, then we have no right to question Him or place criteria on Him, so as creatures we really aren’t even entitled ask the question, “Why do we suffer?” This is what St. Paul is getting at when he says in Romans 9, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” (Romans 9:20). Clay pots aren’t allowed to complain to the potter. As creatures, completely dependent on God, we have to accept whatever God sends or allows, whatever happens.
But thanks be to God, we are not left only with Law; we also have the Gospel, God’s Word of comfort to us. And for those who believe the Gospel, we can have complete confidence that God’s will is always best and that He is always gracious to us in Christ. Sufferings are not incompatible with God in Christ, as we see in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
It was the will of the Father that His Son suffer, so suffering is not a contradiction of God’s love, mercy, or omnipotence. The key, as always, is in Jesus. Since Jesus is the only way to the Father, then if we really want to come to grips with the question, “Why do we suffer?” then the only way we can do it is by looking to Jesus.
In Jesus we learn that suffering is God’s solution to our biggest problem—that is, eternal death under God’s wrath. Though we sinners have merited nothing from God except for punishment, suffering, and eternal death, out of love for the world, out of pure grace and mercy, He sent His only-begotten Son into the flesh in order to suffer eternal death in our place.
We see in Christ’s Passion the great suffering that He went through. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He said His soul was sorrowful, even unto death, because He knew that if He went to the cross He would drink the cup of God’s wrath against our sin. Yet Jesus’ prayer, asking that the cup be removed, also teaches that suffering is not inherently good or desirable—rather, suffering is only part of the creation because of sin.
Yet Jesus faithfully resigned Himself to His Father’s will for our sake. Indeed, Jesus went willingly to the cross to suffer for us, as He said in John, “I lay down my life so that I may take it up again.” And this is God’s solution to our greatest problem. The suffering of Jesus is able to answer for your sins, to save you—because only the suffering and death of God is enough to answer for the sin of the whole world.
Almost two thousand years ago, under Pontius Pilate, this happened at Mt. Calvary, and His suffering came to a climax when He cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Jesus wants us to ponder that question. He wants us to ask, “Why was He forsaken?” The Father’s answer is given by St. Paul in Romans 5, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:8-9).
Saved from the wrath of God—that includes you, because Jesus was forsaken in your place. Our greatest problem is not even sin but is God’s wrath against sin. Jesus has answered for that. And because of Him, because you are crucified with Christ in Baptism, baptized into His death and resurrection, you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
In Christ, you have everything—forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation—so now you can even look at your own sufferings differently. You are now set free from the nagging fear that God is angry with you, that He’s out to get you, that He wants to punish you. No, in Christ, God even makes your suffering useful for you, useful for your life and salvation, since sufferings teach us not to rely on ourselves, but on God, who alone can raise the dead and give us eternal hope.
Prayer: Almighty God, our heavenly Father, we give You thanks that by the patient suffering and death of Your Son You rescued us from all faithlessness. Deliver us from the sin of impatience. By Your Word and Spirit, teach us to commend ourselves to You and to trust that in all things You work for our eternal good. Strengthen us to bear all crosses, adversities, and trials with patience and fervent trust in our Savior as we await Your deliverance and peace; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.