“Jeremiah on the Ruins of Jerusalem” by Horace Vernet, circa 1844
When we think of a suffering prophet, we tend to think of Jeremiah, and not without good reason. His message was consistently rejected by the people he was trying to help. He was thrown into a cistern. (Jeremiah ch. 38) He was treated as a criminal. At one point, his manuscript was destroyed and he had to start from scratch (Jeremiah ch. 36), which any writer knows is a devastating blow. He lived to see all the dreadful things he predicted come to pass. The city of Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah were destroyed. Many people were killed, and those who survived were sent into exile. Yes, if there was anything that characterized the life of Jeremiah, it was pain and suffering.
In addition to the long book that bears his name, Jeremiah is also held to be the author of the short work titled Lamentations. This is not a book to which Christians typically gravitate, for it is admittedly a downer. Yet, within those pages, there is much we can learn about suffering in the lives of God’s people, and how God Himself redeems it. Continue reading
“Job’s Despair” by William Blake, circa 1805
If there is any book in scripture that reads like an examination of the purpose of human suffering, it is surely Job. This may not be the only place in the Bible where the concept is considered, but due to the nature of the text – a lengthy debate between one suffering man and his friends, with an appearance at the end by God Himself – it is particularly compelling. In one of the most famous passages in this book, Job boldly proclaims, “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives…” (19:25a) I would like to take a moment to examine this comment and what exactly Job meant when he referred to God as his “Redeemer”.
When I as a 21st century Christian read Job’s words, I automatically think of Jesus Christ and His work on the cross. Without a doubt, His atonement has redeemed all who believe. Yet, Job lived long before Christ walked the earth; in fact, he lived long before most of the Messianic prophecies were made. Could Job have foreseen the work of Jesus Christ? Was that what he meant by the word “Redeemer”? Continue reading
“Christ Carrying the Cross” by Anthony van Dyck, circa first quarter of the 17th century
In a recent essay, I made a throwaway comment to the effect that Jesus Christ has not only redeemed us, but also our suffering. I then fell prey to a nagging question. “What exactly do you mean by that, Amy?” It seemed right to me that I should follow up on that thought and flush it out more fully. Here is the result.
Suffering is a result of sin, either directly or indirectly. There was no suffering before the Fall – not even anything we could truly call difficult. Following the Fall, we suffer in such myriad ways that we become desensitized to a certain percentage of it in order to simply get through the day. First, you have the obvious aches and pains, an assortment of physical maladies so diverse that it has made the health care industry one of the largest in the world, with plenty of room to grow. Then there is the emotional pain brought about by daily disappointments: friends letting you down, careers going south, opportunities missed, etc.
There is the persecution, both active and passive, faced by so many Christians worldwide, to which the New Testament devotes much of its focus on suffering. There are those times when the universe itself seems out to get you, so bemoaned in Alanis Morisette’s hit tune, “Ironic”. Often ignored is the spiritual suffering we all experience due to the distance between ourselves and God, which is only less painful because we are unaware of what perfect communion with God really feels like. Last of all, there’s the really big one: death.
The good news is that Christians do not suffer in the same way as everyone else. Yes, we are subject to the same kinds of suffering, and anyone who tells you that becoming a Christian will magically make your life suffering-free is either a liar or doesn’t believe in what the Bible has to say. They are setting you up to feel that either you are failing in your faith or God is failing as God, for you will inevitably face suffering. The difference is not that Christians don’t suffer, but rather that through the work of Jesus Christ, our suffering has been redeemed. Continue reading