“So you think that you’re the only one to cry yourself to sleep? That you’re the only one who’s scared they’ll all forget you when you leave? So you think that you’re the only one whose heart is black and blue? Listen, I’ve got news for you….
So you feel so wrecked and dirty He could never make you new? Man, have I got news for you, for you. I’m so compelled to tell you that it’s true….I’ve got good news for you.”
– Andrew Peterson, “I’ve Got News” –
Suffering. We’ve learned to run away from it, ever since we bumped our heads as babies. Ever since our childhood pet got hit by a passing car. Ever since our young hearts broke over the first person we knew that died. Ever since our adolescent souls were scarred by one-time friends that turned into Judases, Brutuses, Benedict Arnolds, betraying who they claim to love. It all seemed so unnatural, a blip in the happiness of childhood.
As adults, we see more of the pain. Our early immunity to the harshness of the world beyond has worn off. We see it all: the death mixed in with life, the tears that come as often as laughter, the hate that turns so much love sour.
Suffering. We recoil from it. We take medication for it. We know, instinctively, that pain means that all is NOT right with the world. Pain means something has gone wrong…crazily wrong.
Atheists say that the world has always been this way, that nature’s desperate struggle for dominance. We’re swept up in the unending pain, only to have it stop at death. We just have to survive till then.
Transcendentalists say that life is suffering–and only suffering. The only way to escape is to disconnect from the material, stop wanting anything, and join up with the cosmos. Let it swallow you. And hopefully you’ll come back as a being better than the one you are now–just don’t mess up the karma.
I have good news.
Jesus says that a better kind of life is possible. Unlike the meaningless suffering that other beliefs offer, Jesus says there is hope beyond the pain. Others can only hope for oblivion, a cessation of the bad. But the loved ones of God hold to a greater dream–the Biblical portrait of a Day when all is made new and clean and pure and empty of pain.
When Jesus came to earth as a man, grew up partaking in our pain, and died at the hands of His own creatures, His death lent value to suffering.
The cross said: Suffering isn’t pointless.
But, in three days, the rest of the message came clearly. If Jesus’ death gave meaning to pain, then His resurrection gave hope . Hope–the promise that one day this pain will be over. Our “three days” of languishing have the possibility of ending with the same kind of triumph–a rock-quaking, life-raising, never-dying kind of resurrection can be ours too.
Without Jesus, the world languishes. Suffering is pointless, pain leads to nowhere but a grave that levels all things to dust. But WITH Jesus, the difference is too great for words. Imagine a dark room, with the windows covered in heavy black cloth. Sun is excluded. The darkness is almost thick and the air is stifling with the absence of color or light or breeze. Then imagine someone came in and threw open the curtains. Imagine someone came and knocked out the walls. Imagine that the ceiling crumbled away and the sun’s full-noon glory pierced down. It was dark, and now it is light.
But those words, simple and short, cannot convey the power of the change. The hope of God is not just a prick of light at the end of a tunnel. God’s hope is a total smashing of our room of darkness. We still stand in the same place, but now we see it differently. Before we saw only interminable darkness. Now, what do we see? Light flowing over, around, through us. Told another way, the blind cannot see the end of the pain. Only the opened eyes can perceive the reason to hope that stood as a crossroad of history and even now is rising again on the horizon.
“The good news breaks into a world where the news has been so bad for so long that when it is good nobody hears it much except for a few. And who are the few that hear it? They are the ones who labor and are heavy-laden like everybody else, but who, unlike everybody else, know that they labor and are heavy-laden….Rich or poor, successes or failures as the world counts it, they are the ones who are willing to believe in miracles because they know it will take a miracle to fill the empty place inside them where grace and peace belong….Maybe the truth of it is that [the good news is] too good not to be true.”
– Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth, page 70-71 –
Do you see it? Christ, in you, the hope–the HOPE!–of glory (Colossians 1:27). Hope of glory? Yes, hope of a glory beyond this world of pain. Hope of a life beyond what we know here. Hope that this present world is not how it was nor how it will always be. Hope hinges on what we believe (Hebrews 1:1). First, what we believe about Jesus. And, as a result, what we believe about suffering.
Our view of pain depends on our faith. Do we believe that all that goes wrong here will be–soon and gloriously–put to right? Do we believe in a God with an incomprehensible blend of grace and justice, a God who will make us, his rebellious creation, into His perfect creation again? Paul perfectly captured the hopeless view of most of our world:
“If the dead do not rise, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!'” (1 Corinthians 15:32b, NKJV)
If this life–this hard, often-agonizing life–is all there is to look forward to, we are right to despair. But Paul himself had another perspective on pain:
“….that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11, NKJV).
In his commentary on this passage, 17th century theologian Matthew Henry explains:
“Knowing him here is believing in him: it is an experimental knowledge of the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, or feeling the transforming efficacy and virtue of them….We are then made conformable to his death when we die to sin, as Christ died for sin, when we are crucified with Christ, the flesh and affections of it mortified, and the world is crucified to us, and we to the world, by virtue of the cross of Christ. This is our conformity to his death…..This joyful resurrection the apostle pressed towards. He was willing to do any thing, or suffer any thing, that he might attain that resurrection. The hope and prospect of it carried him with so much courage and constancy through all the difficulties he met with in his work….Observe, His care to be found in Christ was in order to his attaining the resurrection of the dead. Paul himself did not hope to attain it through his own merit and righteousness, but through the merit and righteousness of Jesus Christ. “Let me be found in Christ, that I may attain the resurrection of the dead, be found a believer in him, and interested in him by faith….”
Here, we see that pain can be a tool for our good. No, pain is not good itself, just like every other product of fallen humanity. But our powerful God can work even these present hard things into glory to come.
This is my message to you today, sisters: We live in a dying world. Have hope! We live daily with the painful consequences of sin. Have hope! We live among people who see no answer, no end, no solution, to this suffering. But have hope!
Many of us have heard this tale until our ears are full of it and we cease to wonder at its beauty. But the cross is not just for the unsaved. The cross–and the resurrection–is for me and you, every day, just as it was for the apostle Paul. The cross proclaims that our horrible sinfulness has a potent cure. The resurrection announces that we have a good reason to laugh today, because this momentary sorrow is dying away. Yes, our world is crying out, like a woman almost ready to deliver her child (Romans 8:22). But soon the baby will be born. Do not fear. The pain is almost over. New life is on its way. Spread the hope to those who see no end to the pain.
This earth is being birthed into new life. Good news: Our God never miscarries.
“Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”
And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.”
– Revelation 21:1-7, NKJV –