Now will I sing to my well beloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My well-beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: And he fenced it, and gathered out the stone....16th October 2017
The Bible has a lot to say about suffering. I think we can all quote or reference any number of passages that speak to the suffering we face in life. We all know the story of Job. We’ve probably memorized Romans 8:28. We might even have a list of go-to passages that give us hope and encouragement when we are going through a trial.
And certainly there is a lot of hope to find in such passages and for good reason. When I am going through a season of suffering, I often find encouragement in passages like Isaiah 43:1, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” or the glorious truth in Romans 8 that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. I often turn to passages like that in James 1 to remind myself that God is doing something important through my trials, important and eternal work.
But more than turning to specific verses when we are suffering, it’s also important to turn to The Story. The main story of Scripture is one I turn to over and over to help me understand the place of suffering in my life.
Because, to be honest, my first question is always, “Why?” And that is quickly followed by, “How long?” And then I want to know, “Will I make it? Will I survive this?”
That’s why I turn to The Story.
The Story: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration
The story of Creation tells me how God created the world and what it was like. It was 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 completely one with each other and had no barriers between them.
Then the Fall happened. They listened to and believed Satan’s lies. They desired to be like God and ate the fruit he had 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 their sin nature and spend our lives hiding and covering. God then gave them the consequences due for their sin and they were expelled from the garden. But before Adam and Eve 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. It also shows how God pushed forward his plan to fulfill his promise to Adam and Eve.
Then, 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. He faced temptation, sorrow, rejection, pain, and suffering but never sinned. He showed the world who God was. 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.
But that’s not the end of the Story. One day Jesus will return and make all things new. “And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5). Sin, sorrow, and pain will be no more. We will be transformed and reign with Christ forever. “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).
Telling the Story
This Story, the Story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration is the story I tell myself when I want to understand suffering. This Story tells me that the ache and longing I feel in my suffering for wholeness and healing is because things are not as they should be. I remember God’s creation and know that this world is not as he designed it when he said, “Let there be light.” When my heart cries out, “Why?” I remember the Story of the Fall and remind myself that sin is the cause for all the brokenness and sorrow I feel in this life. My sin, the sin of others against me, the effects of sin on the created world which brings about disease and the breakdown of all things.
Then my heart turns to the Story of Redemption. I remember that I have hope because of what Christ did for me. I remember that he is the Man of Sorrows who was familiar with grief. I remember all that he accomplished for me at the cross and that his grace is sufficient for me. I remember that suffering unites me to my suffering Savior. I rest in the truth that because God went to great lengths to rescue and redeem me from sin, he will certainly keep and preserve me during my current trial.
I then turn my heart toward eternity and know that Restoration is coming. What I am experiencing right now is not forever. As Paul wrote, “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 does have a lot to say about suffering. Many individual verses have given me hope and comfort during my own trials. But the Story, the grand Story of what God has done and is doing, is the one I turn to time and again when I am suffering. As a child of God, it’s my Story. And it’s yours as well. So let’s tell it to one another over and over. Until that day when we can turn the page to the next chapter, the one titled, Eternity..