Frustration, anger, bitterness, despair, helplessness, loneliness, sadness, and fear. The short list of what suffering can cause. Many of us have felt all or most of these things at one time or another. They are part of our fallen, human experience. The effects of sin can be felt in every area of life and in every life, even in the life of Christians. While we have an awesome “inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven” for us (1 Peter 1:4), we still live in unredeemed bodies (Romans 8:23) and experience suffering. But God has not left us without help when we suffer in the here and now. We can know powerful comfort in the midst of suffering. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) God has provided much for us in his Son Jesus and in his word.
There are two things in particular that have helped me considerably over the past eighteen years of suffering with chronic pain. I wrote a brief summary of my pain situation in my post Powerful Help in Times of Suffering if you would like to read it. In that post I also mentioned what the two things are: the sovereignty of God and the hope that I have in him. These two things have provided powerful, sustaining grace during my experience with suffering, and it is a joy for me to write about them in more detail here.
Sovereign Over All
First regarding God’s sovereignty, I have seen within the Bible lots of evidence that God is in control. I have written about this in my article The Sovereignty of God. It lists verses that speak of God’s sovereignty over our ways, over good and bad times, over our disabilities, over nations, and more. I love those verses and I love sharing them. I know what a difference it has made in my life to know that God is in control, and I enjoy passing that comfort on. Because I have shared a good number of verses in The Sovereignty of God, I will not list them here; but I do recommend that you visit that page. You may also download a pdf of the verses by using the download button on this page. Reading those verses in good times and in times of suffering can bring much comfort and strength.
Meditating on God’s sovereignty can be of great help when we are in the throes of suffering. It is very comforting to know that we are still in his hands. We do not have to give into the thought that things are spiraling out of control even if it seems that way to us. God is in control and managing all that we experience. We can know that no matter what is going on, it has not caught him off guard. We can also know that it is not without purpose. I have learned from the Bible that God works all things after the counsel of his will (Ephesians 1:11), that none of his purposes can be thwarted (Job 42:2), and that he causes all things to work together for good for those who love him. (Romans 8:28) That’s incredibly comforting. I rejoice that I am not at the mercy of my circumstances; I am in the mercy of my sovereign God, always.
Understanding that God is sovereign makes my circumstances less frightening. It gives me a totally different perspective. With that perspective, all of life gets filtered differently. This helps a lot because we cannot see the big picture, and sometimes things don’t make sense. In the case of suffering, they can even seem cruel. But in the hardest moments, we can lean on the truth that God is in control.
When I have been in the grips of great suffering, I have sometimes temporarily forgotten that God is sovereign. In those moments, my heart faints and my mind races on all sorts of negative things. My suffering and problems become overwhelming. I’m not sure how I forget, but I thank God that it comes to mind again. When I remember that he is in control and rest in his sovereignty, both my heart and mind are greatly blessed. My heart finds courage and my mind finds rest. My despair, frustration, fear, and anything else that overtook me begins to fade as my peace grows. This spills over to my physical suffering as well. I find renewed strength, and I am able to endure it better because I know I am in the hands of my sovereign Lord.
Hope in God
I wrote above that there are two things that have helped me considerably over the past eighteen years of suffering with chronic pain. God’s character is the foundation for the second thing that has been a huge help to me, namely having my hope in him. This is no ordinary hope. It is hope in the almighty, loving, sovereign Creator and Lord of all. I rejoice that he said, “I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things.” (Jeremiah 9:24b) Because he exercises lovingkindness, justice, righteousness, and because of all he is I know I am safe to put my hope in him. In fact, it is the safest thing for me to do. It guards my heart and mind from all sorts of worry and negativity. Those things do not sit only in my heart and mind. They move to my body. Negative stress causes my pain to increase. Having my hope in God is best for me in these ways, but also because it is simply right for me to have it in him. He is worthy of my hope. He deserves my trust because of all that he is and all he has promised. I believe that hope in God glorifies him because it highlights the truth that he is the One on which all things rest.
Even with knowing all this, I sometimes need to remind myself to hope in God. I get waylaid by grief over my trials and circumstances and fall into despair. I feel the years that have passed while I’ve been in this state and what it has caused me to miss out on. I get frustrated and sad and sometimes the pain is so hard to bear. I wonder if things will ever change and fear a bleak future. In those moments, I have learned, through the grace of God, to ask myself, “Where is your hope?” Then I can see that it has moved off of God. It begins to reappear as I recall to mind all that he is and all that he has promised. I remind myself to hope in God, not unlike what I have seen the psalmist write about in Psalm 42:5.
“Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him For the help of His presence.” Psalm 42:5 (See also Psalm 42:11 and Psalm 43:5)
At first the hope appears as a flicker of light in the bottom of the pit in which I have sunken. But because God is true and awesome, it grows to illuminate my heart and mind. I have seen despair turn to joy because my Lord has graciously worked to remind me of my hope in him. Sometimes the reminder comes right to my mind, other times I grasp my Bible and read it until my hope returns, other times my husband has come along side of me and reminds me to hope in God. No matter how it happens, I am so grateful that it does. I believe that hope in God can refresh even the darkest soul because he is the greatest Light.
If you ever have times when you are low, I invite you to ask yourself, “Have I lost my hope in God?” If the answer is yes, remind yourself to hope in God! He is worthy and you will again praise him. He is our help.
We can hope in God every day, not just during the very bad ones. Here are some other verses about hope in God. He is our hope. Psalm 62:5-8, Psalm 71:5, Jeremiah 14:22, 1 Timothy 1:1, 1 Timothy 6:17
Hope in a Sovereign God
There is a chapter tucked away in the middle of a small book in the Old Testament that I have returned to again and again in my suffering. It brings suffering, the sovereignty of God, and hope in God together in a very encouraging way. It is Lamentations 3. This chapter has helped me find great comfort in the mist of my suffering even though it is in the middle of a book filled with sadness.
Though his name is not in the book, it is believed that the prophet Jeremiah wrote Lamentations. The book is aptly named as it speaks a lot about things worth weeping about. It speaks about the sin and judgment of God’s people and the fall of Jerusalem. In the book of Jeremiah we can read about his prophesies concerning the coming judgment. His message was not well received, and he was persecuted. He suffered because of his persecution, but he also wept for the state of his people. (Jeremiah 9:1, Lamentations 3:48-49) The beginning of Lamentations 3 starts with a list of things Jeremiah personally suffered. Here are some of the things listed in Lamentations 3:1-20.
So how is it that this desperate chapter helped me find great comfort in the mist of suffering? Well, here is the first part of the answer to that question and why this chapter has been so important in my life. Jeremiah attributed ALL of his suffering to God. This is important to me because it reinforces what I have seen in other places in the Bible. The prophet Jeremiah testifies to the sovereignty of God even in the midst of suffering. He knew that God was in control, and I can too. That is very comforting.
Yes, Jeremiah suffered; and he knew God’s hand in it. He knew who was in control. My guess is that this knowledge contributed to the change in his tone that occurs in the next few verses. I wrote that this chapter was about both sovereignty and hope. We are about to get to the verses about hope. It is the second part to the question about how this chapter helped me find great comfort in the mist of suffering. If we read further into the chapter, we will see a powerful turnaround. A turnaround similar to what I have experienced in my life time and time again when I remembered what Jeremiah remembered. He, like the psalmist above, fell into despair, but he did not stay there. He recalled something to mind and in it he found hope. Before we read about that, here is the end of his list of suffering. Notice the very sad place he is in.
“My soul has been rejected from peace; I have forgotten happiness. So I say, “My strength has perished, And so has my hope from the LORD.” Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness. Surely my soul remembers And is bowed down within me.” Lamentations 3:17-20
The very next verse brings us to the turn around.
“This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.” The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, To the person who seeks Him. It is good that he waits silently For the salvation of the LORD. Lamentations 3:21-26
“Great is Your faithfulness!” What a dramatic turnaround! Why? Because in spite of everything he has seen and suffered, he knows there is still hope. Why? Because God’s sovereignty exist with something incredibly comforting. His lovingkindnesses never cease. Never. His compassions never fail. Never. Surely good enough reasons to put his hope in God. But how can a man who suffered so much say this? I believe it is because he took God at his word and believed him when he said, “I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things.” (Jeremiah 9:24b) In case you missed it, notice where that verse comes from – the book of Jeremiah. I believe it was Jeremiah’s personal experience with God’s character and his belief in God’s word and knowledge of what God had done through the ages that cemented Jeremiah’s opinion that there was still hope. I find it incredibly edifying to see such faith and hope in spite of all the suffering in this book of lamentations.
A very important part of all this is that Jeremiah sees God as his portion. This is something we have in common with Jeremiah through Jesus Christ. God is our portion, and having God as your portion trumps any earthy suffering. That doesn’t mean that our suffering isn’t terribly terrible, but it does mean that even in it we can still have hope. We can have hope because God is our hope. He is there, he is in control, and he loves us. The God of the universe cares for us. (1 Peter 5:7) We are his possession and he is our God. (1 Peter 2:9) No matter what, he is somehow causing (he can cause because he is sovereign) all things to work together for good for us. (Romans 8:28)
I rejoice that we have a sovereign God AND that we can have our hope in him. We would be a poor people indeed if our Lord’s lovingkindnesses never ceased and his compassions never failed, BUT he didn’t have control over all. What he could do for us would be limited. Or what if he was sovereign but did not exercise lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth? Shudder the thought. We can rejoice, dear sisters, that because our Lord is both sovereign and good, we can put our hope in him even in the midst of great suffering. I know these two things have made all the difference in the world to me. They are not the only things, for God is awesome and his word is filled with blessings; but they are very dear to me. Let’s rejoice in them and in all the riches we have in Jesus Christ. They are unfathomable! (Ephesians 3:8) To God be the glory!
Below are two books that I read years ago that deal with the topic of suffering. I found them to be very helpful. Perhaps you will too.
Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts by Jerry Bridges
Walking Through Shadows: Finding Hope in a World of Pain by Ken Ham and Carl Wieland