To respond to the call to care in a Christian way requires a Biblical understanding of suffering. Dr. Kenneth Haugk, in his book "Don't sing songs to a heavy heart," observes that the Bible is full of stories of everyday people struggling with the every day relationships, issues and problems. From these people and from their experiences we can learn a lot about pain and suffering. We can learn a lot about those who suffer and gain wisdom for how to care for them.
The Bible tells us about real people with real challenges, real heartaches and real suffering like these:
- Job, who lost his children, wealth and health
- Sarah's infertility and how it caused her distress and marital strain
- Moses who lived as an outcast for 40 years in Egypt, unable to lead his people to the promise land
- David had repeated attempts on his life, experienced the death of his best friend, the death of his infant son, the murder of one son at the hand of another and the death of a rebellious son
- The apostle Paul had his "thorn in the flesh"
- Then too, Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with pain and suffering
Romans 8 is a great chapter that gives a wide perspective and deep understanding to Christian life past, present and future. Consider these verses:
"Now if we are children, then we are heirs heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are no worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us... We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time? And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:17-18, 22, 28)
Think about verse 28: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him." This verse does not say that?
- everything will turn out right in this lifetime the verse does say it will from God's view of an eternal perspective.
- there will be immediate relief the verse does say there is hope.
- hope will make your hurts go away the verse does say that doesn't mean there is no meaning.
In verse 22, Paul says that a believer's situation is like that of a mother giving birth when he says, "We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time." This is an appropriate image because?
- a mother knows that her labor pains are temporary.
- hope does not negate pain.
- hope is not a panacea for the groaning.
As members of God's family, we Christians are heirs not just because of what we have right now, but because of what we do not yet have. Paul talks about "our present sufferings," and in the same sentence he mentions "the glory that will be revealed in us." There is a real, unresolved tension between what we experience here and the future hope we possess.
Here we still experience suffering (v.18), frustration (v.20), bondage to decay (v.21), groaning (v.22), and weakness (v.26). The Christian life is not all joy. It is a combination of joy and sadness, contentment and restlessness, comfort and pain. The full benefits of being God's heir are delayed. This "not yet" the future hope is the context for the Christian's present pain and suffering.