On suffering

by Gaven Mize

“Where are you, God? Why, when I need you most, do I feel so forsaken?”

In the midst of suffering and pain, questions like these are all too easy to ask, and pat answers like “God never promised us happiness,” just don’t cut it. We sojourn in the midst of heart-wrenching pain, looking for only a drop of water from Lazarus’ finger, yet feeling like even this bit of solace is denied us in our agony.

So what can we do? Where can we flee for refuge?

We find our hope in the same place Peter did: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life …” (John 6:68).

Even in the midst (even more so in the midst) of temporal pain and suffering, we flee for refuge to the Word. We get off our butts, sit in the pew and have life preached into us. We cry out, “Have mercy on me, a sinner!” never letting ourselves assume in our arrogance that Jesus doesn’t or couldn’t possibly understand our pain.

Christ knows our pain. He took on human flesh, and to be human is to know pain. More than this, He took our sin and bore our suffering on the cross, where he cried out in agony to the Father, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani” — “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” All this He did so that we would be blameless before God. He did it for the forgiveness of our sins!

We have been born into Christ’s suffering, put to death and raised to new life in the waters of Holy Baptism. We are joined to His death and resurrected into His life! There is no greater comfort than this, and it was brought to us by His suffering. As followers of Christ, therefore, we know that in this world, we will suffer. But we know also that, in Him we have true peace … everlasting and eternal peace.

So go suffer. Be in pain. But do so in Christ, knowing that the God who suffered is with you in your suffering, and in the midst of His church. Be among the Body of believers who love you and care for you. Be among the faithful who, like you, have been forgiven.

Make the sign of the cross in remembrance of the tree of life that was planted on your forehead with water. Sing the Te Deum. Hum the liturgy. Faithfully hear the proclamation of the Gospel so that you may keep your heart and mind always on Jesus. “Take, eat” and “take, drink” of Christ’s body and blood, broken and shed for you, in the Lord’s Supper. Receive His peace in the Word and sacraments.

You are Christ’s child through Baptism, and though this world might rip you apart — though it might murder every bit of emotion you have within you, though it will eventually take your very life —  it can never undo what Christ has done for you on the cross!

Upon this reality we hang all our hope, even — and especially — when we suffer. The Lord has had mercy on us. Thanks be to God!

The Rev. Gaven Mize is the pastor of Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hickory, N.C. His books include Beauty and Catechesis and My Little ABC Liturgy Book, both available at mizefamilybooks.com.

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