How should we face suffering? “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword’” (Matthew 26:52). That looks like an easy road out of suffering.
Thessalonica doesn’t sound so bad. But we must remember: Wherever we go, whether it’s Southern California, Thessalonica or deeper inward into our shells of self-protecting bitterness toward God—anywhere but God’s face—we will take our tears with us. We will carry our suffering in our hearts. And we will find someone else to blame—ourselves, a friend, a boss or a spouse. This life is a life of tears, because we live in a world of sin. And one day, every Thessalonica will be burned up with the chaff, and God, the one we blame, will be the one—the only one—to wipe away our tears: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
5. “I will never leave you.”
God felt more abandoned by God than you or I ever will. Jesus cries, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Because of the death of Jesus on the cross, we will never experience the same abandonment that he experienced in that moment. We may experience Judas-like betrayal, even (or especially) by the church. Most people who struggle to believe God is good have been deeply hurt by the church. And the church has not necessarily been the most helpful in that kind of hurt.
Jesus never abandons us. “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). That promise may feel a little flat in the moment. It feels like it flirts with belittling some serious feelings—minimizing or ignoring the pain of sufferers who have walked away from God because they felt abandoned. We rummage through our sin to find the reason why God has abandoned us. Or we present God with a deposition: Here are the facts. You have failed as a provider, a shepherd, a father. How could you possibly be here, with me, in this? You left me!
But he never leaves. He doesn’t go. He hasn’t failed. “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent?” (Luke 11:11). He stays. That’s why the steadfastness of his love is so important. He offers us only one perspective on our pain: the eternal perspective. And if he does change your circumstances for the worse, or for the better, that is from him, too. It’s both bitter and sweet. God scripts the bitter herbs into our diet on this earth. Some more than others. We can only wait, and pray for mercy and the strength we need for whatever comes or remains today.
God has not betrayed us. We have broken our covenant with him many times. And in Christ, he never points the finger of accusation—he only offers his warm, undeserved embrace, again and again, even through unimaginably difficult circumstances. Lord, have mercy on us, sinners and sufferers.