How are you comforted in difficult times? Preaching the gospel to ourselves is a good way. Rehearsing all the blessings God has showered on us is another. Remembering the countless deliverances from the past, yet another. Maybe we can summarize these as remembering “God’s truth” and “God’s faithfulness”. They look to the present and the past. But what about the future? To consider the future, we must grapple with God’s sovereignty. Isn’t it comforting to know that God controls the most minute details of everything? By itself, I must say no, it is not.
In past times of suffering, I didn’t find relief in the fact that God made it happen. Quite the opposite, really. My mind focused not on God bringing it about, but God’s apparent lack of desire to take it away, leading me to ask “Why? Why me?” I am not proud of my pity parties, I am simply pointing out that, in my thinking, if God has the power to relieve my suffering, why doesn’t he? Doesn’t he love me? I never doubted God’s power and control, I doubted his love for me. Not the fact that he loves me—verses assuring me of this abound—but what exactly this ought to look like. After all, if I love my children, I will desire to remove their pain, even take it on myself if I could, wouldn’t I?
Here, then, is the answer! Oh blessed clarity, where have you been? He has taken my pain on himself! In a more wonderful and amazing way than I could imagine! In fact, his love is so great, I won’t exhaust it in an eternity of contemplation. Christ took more than my pain to the cross, he took my sin! And he gave me more than temporary relief from suffering, he gave me himself forever! Oh for a mind to comprehend this!
Given this wonderful truth, I can now look at suffering in the way that the writer of Hebrews did in Hebrews 12. God disciplines those he loves, just like a loving father does. Good, I am a father, I agree with the sentiment for my own children, I can accept discipline from my perfect Father for a time. And I can look at suffering in the way the apostle Paul did, in Romans 8:18: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Temporary. To be eclipsed by future glory.
Where is comfort, if not at the cross? Oh my soul, look to the cross and see him who died there for you so that you might be with the wellspring of life, the comforter of his people (Isaiah 40), forever. He promises that all things are for your good (Romans 8:28). You can trust the Sovereign because he is also the Good and has proven it on the cross. Hallelujah!
P.S. The astute reader will have noticed that, in the end, I simply did what I suggested be done in the first paragraph: Preach the gospel to yourself, remember his faithfulness! These should have brought me to the same place I eventually ended up, but maybe this goes to demonstrate my stubborn sinfulness and God’s great patience with his children.