When we find ourselves faced with suffering, i.e. “having what we do not want or wanting what we do not have,”* we experience lonely and painful days. As followers of Christ, we believe in the goodness of God, of course. But those days of suffering often test our faith in that goodness, don’t they? If God is good, then why am I suffering so? It’s a legitimate question. When Job lost everything—his possessions, his wealth, his children and then even his health—he wrote, “Make me understand where I have gone astray.”1 “For he crushes me with a tempest and multiplies my wounds without cause.”2 It is hard not to feel angry at God when we lose what is most precious to us, when we have what we do not want or want what we do not have.
So, what do we do when we find ourselves truly suffering, i.e. wanting? We should lament. 😧 Yes, that’s right. We need to lament: to mourn, to wail, and express sorrow demonstratively. That’s the definition of lamenting. But there is more to it than that. For one thing, lamenting is not complaining. Complaining is simply grumbling and whining, being discontent over things and airing these grievances to others and perhaps to God, too, but God does not sanction grumbling. He often chastised the Israelites for their grumbling as they wandered around in the desert. He told Moses, “I have heard the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against me.”3 And then God laid down their punishment: All who “have grumbled against me, not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell.”4 Grumbling prevented the original crew of Israelites from entering the Promised Land! So, let’s make one thing clear: Grumbling is not allowed! 😠
But lamenting is! Perhaps the difference between the two is this: grumbling is complaining about the way things are and being discontent; lamenting is conceding to the way things are and being sorrowful. Jesus was a man acquainted with sorrow. “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”5 When Jesus was in Gethsemane and wanted to spend time in prayer, “he began to be sorrowful and troubled.”6 And Jesus pleaded with God that to relieve him of his heavy burden. But God did not! Suffering and lamenting were part of Jesus’ life, and they are part of ours as well.
But we need to learn from Jesus about suffering. Certainly, he prayed for his burden to be lifted but he ended his prayer with, “not as I will, but as you will.”7 And then he continued his ministry. He did not give up. He did not become discouraged. And mostly, he did not become bitter. The longer we suffer, the more likely we are to become bitter. 😕
Jeremiah faced it. His book Lamentations is a poem describing how the Israelites rebelled against God, wandered away from him, and experienced the price of their willful sin: that they lived with their enemies, who oppressed them and mocked them and boasted of their victory! Jeremiah lamented to God and expressed his sorrow freely. Until he eventually became bitter, not only about the Israelites abandoning their God, but God abandoning his people. He wrote, “He has filled me with bitterness; he has sated me with wormwood. He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, ‘My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.’”8 This is the danger as suffering continues. Jeremiah felt hopeless. We, too, may reach that point at times. So, what are we to do? Continue lamenting, crying out to God though we feel abandoned by him. Because as Jeremiah reached his lowest point, he then wrote, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.”9
As we continue to lament to God about how deep our pain and suffering is, we also need to “call to mind” what God has shown us in the past. And what is this? “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”10 Jeremiah discovered in the depths of his pain and suffering—where he felt “bereft of peace” and had “forgotten what happiness is” and where his “endurance [had] perished” along with any hope—he discovered one morning, new mercy. And this new mercy gave him hope. And hope is the recovery stage of suffering.
Recall what Paul said about suffering: “we rejoice in our suffering, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”11 At the end of our road of suffering is God’s great love.
Even more, our suffering is the place we will discover, as Jeremiah did, that God is all we need. He wrote, “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will wait for him.”12 Suffering is a time of waiting. What shall we do while we wait? Well . . . we can get angry, give up, grumble and complain, and become bitter. This is generally what we do when we wait for things to change. However, there is an alternative. Instead of waiting for things to change, we could wait for the Lord. And what happens to those who wait for the Lord? “They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”13
When suffering comes—and it will—we need to cry out to God, who gladly hears our lamentations (but not our grumbling) and is personally acquainted with our pain. And as we wait for him, one day, we will receive his mercy, and our strength will be renewed, and we will rise up. 🙂
1Job 6:24 2Job 9:17 3Numbers 14:27 4Numbers 14:29-30 5Isaiah 53:3 6Matthew 26:37 7Matthew 26:39 8Lamentations 3:15-18 9Lamentations 3:21 10Lamentations 3:22-23 11Romans 5:3-4 12Lamentations 3:24 13Isaiah 40:31 *Elliot, Elisabeth. Suffering Is Never for Nothing, B & H Publishing Group, Nashville, TN, 2019, p. 9.