Does God Understand Your Suffering?
Surely, he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:4-5
David Jacobs was six years old when he began an uphill battle with cancer which eventually took his life. But in the course of the valiant battle which David fought, this brave little boy gave us some insights that remind us of the way “a child shall lead them.” He was about to undergo a chemotherapy treatment when he and his father sat next to a gray-haired man old enough to be David’s grandfather.
“Hi,” said David, quickly adding, “Have you had this before?”
“Yes,” commented the older man, trying to make David feel comfortable.
“Does it hurt much when they put the needle in you?” David asked, getting to the point of the dialogue.
“Yes, it does,” said the old man. Then trying to minimize the issue quickly, he added, “But they try to make it as easy as possible on you.”
David sat there for a few moments, trying to come to grips with it all and then turned to the old man and said, “You know something. Jesus knows how this feels because they put a crown of thorns on his head.” And as the old man sat there, his eyes filled with tears.
The fellowship of suffering forges bonds that span ages, nationalities, ethnic backgrounds and a host of other divisive issues. When you are hurting and another person hurts the same way, there is a union of your souls which is very, very strong.
When Paul wrote to the Philippians, he said that one of his desires was “to know the fellowship of His suffering,” the fellowship of Christ’s suffering. To be very honest with you, this is something which I know very little about personally. But I have met men and women who knew a great deal about this.
I’m thinking of a godly couple who spent 20 and 22 years in a Chinese prison for the cause of Christ. Wang Ming Dao and his wife had experienced what Paul was talking about. They have been there. But I have never been beaten or felt the blow of stones or fists for the cause of Christ. Neither have I been in prison as were the Wangs. True, I’ve been shoved a few times on a crowded sidewalk in a foreign city, but it was likely because someone didn’t happen to like the country in which I was born, not because I am a follower of Jesus Christ.
Chances are you too would have to say, “I don’t know much about the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings.” But it is possible that you have suffered for His cause in ways that you didn’t, at first, associate with what Paul wrote. The letters which come to me tell about times when you are the victim of cruel words, or out-and-out lies told by people who dislike your faith. No, you aren’t the issue. It is that you represent Jesus Christ to them, and that makes you the target.
When you got your job review, your superior didn’t come right out and say, “Look, Joe. I really resent the fact that you don’t drink and party with us, or that you don’t split your sides laughing at the bawdy, sexist jokes we tell around the office.” But you know. You also know that you are doing a much better job than the person who gets a good review and a pay increase or promotion.
Beginning to understand what Paul was saying? But Paul didn’t stop there. He continued, saying that through the fellowship of His suffering we become conformed to His death. It’s what Jesus was talking about when He told the disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
Few of us would join Paul in desiring the fellowship, this mutual bond which is forged through suffering, but for those who are tested and proved thereby, there are rich, rich rewards. In this we experience the mystical presence of Him who lived, died, and rose again.
Resource reading: Isaiah 53.