“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome this world.” John 16:33.
I came across this verse through “Jesus Calling,” a daily devotional. And it startled me. It’s not a verse that is quoted often, but it is one that explains a lot about what the world is like, what we can expect from the world and what we can expect from Christ. “In this world you will have trouble” explains a lot about the pain and suffering that we experience in our own lives and in the lives of those around us, strangers and friends. Jesus is saying that this is the norm here, that we will suffer, we will be troubled, that it is the nature of this world.
“But take heart!” Don’t worry about the world and its pain, “I have overcome the world.” Jesus is speaking at the end of his life to the disciples in what are called the Farewell Discourses in the Gospel of John, chapters 14 thru 17. And how has He overcome the world? He has lived in this world, but is not of this world. He knows He will die a painful death and will be resurrected afterwards. His relationship with the Father is what sustains Him in everything.
And yet He recoiled at the thought of His death on the cross, at least for a while in Gethsemane. He suffered that painful death, but, in the end, He rose above it and modelled for us how we are to live with the pain of the world—1) to go through what has been put in our lives as graciously as we can and 2) to know that there is life after death, that death and pain and suffering are never the end of the story. That God will redeem any suffering that we go through. And there will be new life in us when any suffering is done.
So how are we to deal with the trouble in this world? If we depend on God in everything, then we can count on His being with us in everything. We lean on His presence. We don’t stay in resistance to what is already in our lives, we pray, we listen, we allow God to lead us through this trouble or that one.
The first think to know about suffering is that it is normal in this world. Any trouble we experience is not due to God’s judgment on us. It is not punishment. It is just a reality of this world. Everyone suffers, some more than others. What I’ve learned from my own life is that I can magnify the pain by resisting whatever is already in my life, whether it is one of my twins’ pneumonia that caused him to stop breathing at home—for seven days we didn’t know if he would live or die– or my husband dying at 60 years old or the anxiety about who I am and how I feel about my place in the world—my resistance to what already is in my life just leads to more pain.
We do cause some of our suffering by the choices we make. God says it very clearly in Deuteronomy 28: if we choose to follow His laws, we will be blessed; if we don’t, we will be cursed. Thus, we can set ourselves up to suffer the consequences of our actions if we follow the ways of the world. The suffering we endure because of our choices can be undone at any moment by repenting, returning to God’s law, to the Spirit of the law which flows out of loving God with all of our selves.
Still, there is suffering even for those of us who love God with all of ourselves. We could just cite Paul’s journey as he carries out God’s will around the Mediterranean Sea, for an example. He was jailed and almost ship-wrecked, persecuted and more. All the while following the Lord. But he boasted about his suffering in 2 Corinthians 11:23: “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again…” There’s a lot more, but he essentially says I will boast about the things that show my weakness [2 Corinthians 12:10]: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Paul’s message is clear, we are to revel in our sufferings because we take it all on for Christ. So, no resistance to illness, to persecution, to any suffering, because we are willing to go through anything for His sake.
And when we do suffer, we can take heart from God’s presence in the suffering, in His help and support. We can look at why we are suffering and see if there is an attitude or assumption that needs to be let go of. Or we can see if there is a lesson in this situation that we need to learn and then give back to the world. Back to Paul again for a final word: “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 8:28] And we know!
Questions to ponder over the week: Do I resent my pain and suffering? Am I angry at God for letting this happen to me? Am I able to let go of all my resistance and to be with God in whatever is in my life? Can I be really helpful to others in their grief and suffering? Or do I run from their pain, too?
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who adjust to the suffering in our lives so that we can still be present to God. May we work within our limitations without resentment. May we keep our eyes and minds and hearts and souls on God no matter what!