Hope in the Midst of Suffering
December 28, 2017 | by: Stephen Sprague | 0 Comments
For the past several years of my life I have kind of been fixated on the end-times. Not in the sense that I've been reading Tim LaHaye's Left Behind series or Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth. Rather I've been fixated on the chapters of scripture that describe to us the beauty of life on the other side of Christ's second coming – Revelation 21-22, Isaiah 35, 1 Cor. 15, etc. At one point in time when we lived in our first apartment in Escondido, Madison began writing passages of scripture on notecards to hang on our wall in the dining room (the way she did it looked way cuter than my description, I promise!). She asked me if I had any requests and I promptly responded with all of Revelation 21 and 22. Of course, that was ridiculous, so we narrowed it down to a select few verses – but you get the idea. The future hope that we have in Christ – it's been on my mind a LOT.
Now – you might be asking yourself, "what does that have to do with the topic of Hope in the midst of suffering?" Great question! Over the last month, as many of you know, we've been forced to wrestle in the hardest ways with the suffering and the pain of death in this life. It was just a few months ago on a Sunday morning that I announced to you all that we were expecting our third child, just a few weeks later that we found out we were having a little girl, and just over 3 weeks past the sonogram that our daughter was born, and then died, within a matter of hours. It was terrible. Perhaps one of the prime examples of the curse earned by us in our first-parents, Adam and Eve, on full display.
Now the reality of the biblical narrative is that we weren't created to die. That was something that was earned. It was a negative result of sin if you will. Adam had before him two trees – the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" and the "tree of life" (Gen 2:9). Had Adam not eaten from the former, he would have eventually earned the latter and lived forever. Of course, he failed, and us with him (Rom 5:15-21) but the tree of life wasn't lost forever. In fact it still stands in front of mankind as a future hope to be earned, or rather, as a future hope which has already been earned in Christ. You see, Christ came as a second Adam to succeed where Adam (and we!) failed, and to take upon himself through the cross the curse of death that Adam (and we!) so justly deserved.
In Christ, the promise of eternal life with God, without separation by sin or need of a mediator to stand between us, that hope becomes a reality – and we see in Revelations 22 that hope in full display as the apostle John is given a glimpse of our future hope. He writes, "Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever."
Now this hope – it is good. And it gives us perspective. It gives us reason to put one foot in front of the other in the midst of the pain and suffering found in this life. But it doesn't ease our pain or our heartache. Yesterday I started reading Holding on to Hope: A Pathway Through Suffering to the Heart of God by Nancy Guthrie. I highly recommend it for anyone wrestling with any sort of pain and heartache in this life. In it, Guthrie quotes her husband from the day after burying their first daughter. He said, "You know, I think we expected our faith to make this hurt less, but it doesn't… we are comforted by the knowledge that she is in heaven. Our faith keeps us from being swallowed by despair. But I don't think it makes our loss hurt any less."
I think the reason for this continued pain isn't weakness, or lack of faith for that matter. Rather it's just part of the reality that death was never part of our original design. And because death is wrong, and foreign to us, it hurts. But the beauty of our pain, if there is beauty in it, is that we are not alone in our sorrow. Isaiah 53:3 describes Jesus as "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." Our own savior was afflicted by the suffering and heartache that comes with death, and not just his own, but even his loved ones. After all, it was after the death of Lazarus that Jesus wept alongside Mary and their other friends. In the English it says "he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled." Our own messiah, the one who would moments later raise Lazarus from the dead, and would ultimately raise himself from the dead, wept. He was deeply moved. He was greatly troubled. Death stings. It's not right and it hurts. That doesn't mean we are without hope. Rather it should strengthen our hope as we long for that day when "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." To that end we have hope in the midst of our suffering.