Unfortunately, too many of us have imbibed a view on how men handle suffering that is similar to Ron Swanson from the TV show, Parks and Recreation. He told his boys’ basketball team that crying is acceptable at “funerals and the Grand Canyon.” In another episode, Chris gets emotional over a box Ron made for him. Ron replies, “Saltwater will warp the wood, so keep your tears in your eyes where they belong.”
We work hard at becoming immune to life’s pain, but when we do this, we also insulate ourselves against the immense comfort God offers when times are difficult. When we learn to be honest about how hard and painful life can be, we open ourselves up to the joy that we can experience, even in our suffering.
Aside from the vision of God in chapter 6, you probably don’t hear many sermons from the first 39 chapters of Isaiah. Through the prophet, God confronted the sin and faithlessness of His people while telling them about their coming exile at the hands of the Assyrians and the Babylonians. This brutal section ends with Isaiah telling Hezekiah that all he and his own son will be carted off to Babylon, where his sons will serve as eunuchs for the king (Isaiah 36–41). For a people who heard they would live forever in a land filled with milk and honey, this came as startling news.
God broke into this stark reality with words that would make His people glad: “Comfort, comfort my people” (Isaiah 40:1). While pain and suffering will come, they will not have the final word. God promised there would be a time when Jerusalem’s warfare would end and her sin would be forgiven. This is what God does over and over. He steps into our pain, even the pain we bring upon ourselves, speaking words of comfort and bringing peace to our weary souls.
The comfort God brings to us in our pain ultimately comes through the suffering of Christ Jesus. While we were foolish, running headlong into our sin and bringing misery upon ourselves, God demonstrated His love towards us by sending Christ to die in our place (Romans 5:8). He took our sin, misery, and guilt upon Himself, and in exchange, we get to experience His comfort and peace.
Paul didn’t pretend life wasn’t hard. In fact, 2 Corinthians catalogued Paul’s sufferings in a way no other letter he wrote did. He spoke of beatings, imprisonments, cold, want, and the pressure of caring about the well-being of the churches he’d founded. He knew affliction and pain. He didn’t hide it; he wore it on his sleeve.
Yet, Paul testified that even though we know something of the afflictions Christ bore, through Him we can also know the abundant comfort God gives. We don’t minimize our pain. We don’t explain away our sufferings. “For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so also through Christ our comfort overflows” (2 Corinthians 1:5). When we honestly acknowledge our suffering, we can trust that God will meet us there in our pain, ministering to us with overwhelming comfort.
Written by Scott Slayton