Every week, various forms of affliction and suffering make it onto our weekly prayer list and we are all eager to have our health needs lifted before the throne of grace by others in the church. It is good and right to do this.
Yet it’s also true that suffering comes in many different forms. Only a small portion of our suffering is physical and we may share those needs with greater liberty as they arise.
But other forms of suffering are not as easy to share. These include the realms of spiritual, emotional, and relational suffering. We need to address this common form of suffering lest any of us feel alone when just the opposite is true.
Many Christians are reluctant to openly share these deeper forms of suffering with the church. Yet they are perhaps the most common and the most debilitating forms of suffering we may experience from day to day.
Whether we feel free to share these needs with others or not, God is fully aware of every form of suffering that broods within our hearts. None of our suffering or grief is ever wasted by our wise heavenly Father. He knows it all and He sees it all.
Philippians 1:29 says, “It has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake.”
Suffering “for His sake” is about suffering because we belong to Jesus and are actively living faithfully for Him in this sinful world. This is suffering for the gospel itself.
Suffering is actually a form of grace that brings us into greater conformity to the image of our Savior. And we rejoice in Christ that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18)
Near to the very heart of the gospel message is the promise that all who follow Christ Jesus will experience suffering of various kinds in this life.
No suffering is desirable. But in my experience, it has been much easier to deal with the ongoing daily struggles of a chronic illness – and even partial blindness in one eye – than to deal with the more private, emotional struggles that weigh on my heart from day to day that are not as easy to admit or share with others. But the reality of it is undeniable.
It’s easy to categorize our struggles and think that there are “respectable” forms of suffering and “un-respectable” forms of suffering. But I’m not sure that’s a biblical distinction to make. Every kind of suffering that enters our lives is a part of our human experience in this fallen world, even as faithful followers of Christ. It’s just that some suffering is more internal and therefore closer to our heart.
It may be that a deep inner sadness or a grief that is undefinable and unexplainable seems to suggest a spiritual deficit or some kind of personal inadequacy, thus leading to greater discouragement and a growing sense of privacy.
Our own relational experience may have led us to believe that such physical afflictions as blindness or cancer are “acceptable” to share, but that internal struggles like depression or discouragement are not.
One key distinction here is that the physical forms of suffering affect only the body; while the emotional, mental, and spiritual forms of suffering touch our soul.
Soul suffering is not visible or obvious. It’s also not as easy to address. And yet the Word of God is able to go where no medical doctor can go… and its cure is genuine.
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” [Hebrews 4:12]
We are very grateful for the common grace of medicine. Yet medicine has its limits. The various prescription drugs that people can take for depression only deal with the symptoms, but they can’t deal with the underlying causes. The causes and sources of this inner kind of suffering are many and various. But God knows exactly what’s going on here and for what purpose. So often, His Word exposes those areas in our hearts.
If the darkness will not lift, our God remains faithful. If we cannot trace His hand, He remains present with us. If we cannot understand the cause or purpose behind it, we entrust ourselves to the One who does and we seek rest in Him until the darkness lifts.
If this has been your experience, you are not alone.
United with Christ in suffering,