Suffering as Solution
2 Corinthians 1:3-11 (ESV) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.
As we face chaos, disease, and death around us, we think, “Why do we suffer so much?” 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. One Law answer is that we suffer because sin has placed the entire creation in bondage and decay, and we must suffer the consequences (Genesis 3:16-19), especially death: “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
Another definite Law answer 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, but 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 “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). 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. Sufferings teach us not to rely on ourselves, but on God, who alone can raise the dead and give us eternal hope.
Prayer: O Lord, Father of all mercy and God of all comfort, You always go before and follow after us. Grant that we may rejoice in Your gracious presence and continually be given to all good works. Deal graciously with all those who suffer that, casting every care on You, they may know the consolation of Your love; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.