“I Have Surely Seen the Affliction of My People”

Fellowship of His Sufferings

Image by Chris Powers of Full of Eyes. Used by permission. Please view this image on the Full of Eyes website and consider supporting this visual ministry.

Hello, dear readers. It’s been a while since I’ve written a new devotional post, but during my silence, I feel as though I’ve come a long way with God. I’d like to share a little of what I’ve been learning.

Some of you may remember the last “My King, My God” post, all the way from April: “Why Have You Forsaken Me?” I wrote that post on Good Friday and reflected on Jesus’s cry from the cross, in light of some personal struggles. At the time, my dog was very sick with lymphoma. I’m sorry to say that she passed away about two months later.

Since then, I’ve had to wrestle with God more than I ever remember doing before. I did feel some anger toward God, but mainly I was confused and frustrated. I wanted answers; I wanted to understand why He assured me of His control over the situation, then let my dog die anyway. In my head, I knew that He cared, but the pain of watching my four-legged friend slowly pass away from cancer was so deep, I couldn’t trust that He really cared about everything I’d been through.

And it wasn’t just my dog’s illness and death that bothered me. I’m a person who feels things deeply, from my own hardships to those of my friends to those of the world at large. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by all the bad that’s out there: freak accidents, violent crimes, natural disasters, and on and on. Losing my dog brought an issue to the surface that has troubled me for a long time: how on earth do we deal with all the evil that life brings?

Most of the time, when I’ve heard a Christian talk about dealing with hardship, their explanation goes something like, “If God allows it, He’ll use it for your good, and that makes everything okay.” That’s the explanation I went with for a long time, even though I sensed it wasn’t complete, but losing my dog shattered it. I didn’t care one iota if God intended to use my pain for good. What kind of cruel, utilitarian god justifies suffering only because of a good result? That completely disregards the personal expense of the individual, and that does not reflect the kind of God I follow.

Let me be clear: I do believe that God uses all things, including suffering, for the good of His people. Romans 8:28 makes that very clear. But the idea that God justifies suffering as a means to an end, I cannot accept. If you’d told me that losing my dog “would make me a better person” or “must be for the best,” I might have punched you. Glib explanations like those may contain a grain of truth, but they miss a large part of the picture and they make it sound like the suffering doesn’t matter. In the midst of my pain, I desperately needed to know that my suffering mattered to God–not because it was a piece of a plan, but because it hurt me.

I made baby steps forward during the ensuing months, but finally in November, God taught me something that restored my broken heart.

All my life, I thought that after periods of grief, God eventually brings us to a place where we say everything is okay again. Similarly, I thought that once we arrive in heaven, the hardships we experience on earth won’t matter anymore. Both of these ideas bothered me because my sufferings matter to me. No matter how good things get later, those bad things still happened, and they still hurt me.

Now I understand that God never expects us to say the hard times are “okay,” because He never says that. God doesn’t want us to disregard the hardships; He intends to fix them! They trouble Him even more than they trouble us (see Isaiah 63:9).

Some bad things, God fixes on earth–sometimes in subtle ways, other times through miracles. Still, a lot of evil isn’t corrected in this life, but God does intend to correct it before the next life. He doesn’t bring us to heaven and say, “Look, it’s all okay now, because the ending is good.” He says, “‘Behold, I am making all things new'” (Revelation 21:5, ESV, emphasis mine).

I don’t believe that a single hardship leaves God’s mind until He corrects it. Paul wrote, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:18-19, ESV). Why would creation wait with longing if it was only going to be wiped away? No, beloved–creation waits because it is going to be remade.

I truly believe that every affliction God allows is, somehow, intricately woven with His plan for redeeming all of creation. Some suffering He prevents, but what He permits is specifically allowed because it will result in the greatest glory and the fullest redemption for everything that exists when Christ returns again.

I can’t think of this without feeling overwhelmed by the greatness and love of God. For months, I felt like my prayers were bouncing off heaven, like God would let things happen regardless of my feelings and everything was all but random. Then I realized that not only is God’s plan not random, but the intricacy of His plans for me and for creation go far, far deeper than I’d dreamed.

I chose the image for this article because it’s meant to symbolize the fellowship of sharing in Christ’s sufferings. It’s also an image that comforted me during my sorrow over my dog. Of course, I still feel pain over the loss–and over the other sorrows in my life and in this world. But I’m now able to trust God again, even more than I did before, because I know He doesn’t let any of my hardships go.

After all, if God intends to wipe away every tear someday (see Revelation 21:4), He must remember what every tear is for, and have plans for the source to be resolved. Moreover, why would the saints under the altar cry out, “‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood…'” if they didn’t know God cared about their suffering and would be faithful to correct it (Revelation 6:10, ESV)?

Our Sovereign Lord will not allow Time to inflict pain on Eternity. He will remember, and He will resolve, and He will redeem.

I leave you with this verse from Exodus, the one that inspired this article’s title. I pray it brings you comfort in whatever you’re going through and reminds you that your suffering does matter to God, and that He won’t forget it–or you. “‘I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them…'” (Exodus 3:7-8, ESV).

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