Suffering. I’ve written about the topic more than I care to think about. It keeps coming around, keeps popping its ugly head into the ins and outs of Jesus relationship. Why is it that while the TV evangelists are telling us Jesus wants comfort for us, blessings for the here and now, we trudge through depression, miscarriage, loss, divorce, cancer, children who leave, spouses who cheat … ? Can we even begin to make sense of suffering in a world ruled by a good God? A God who invites us to call him Father?
The answer is a resounding yes.
We can only make sense of suffering under the sovereignty of a good God if we first believe that God IS good. We need to know it in our bones that He is good, that he is for us. Then we press in.
When I went into labor with my each of my children, the stories varied, but all ended with an abundant joy. Before the joy came, there was a level of pain I hope to never know outside of that setting. I remember groaning, mentally chiding myself to press into the pain, allow it to happen. Human nature wants to fight or run from what hurts us, what scares us. In childbirth, though, the only way to get to the joy at the end is through the life-altering pain.
As each wave crashed over my body, consuming my entire being, I fought it, tensed against it. I spent 24 hours in labor before anything changed in my body, talk about defeat! The nurse came in and said, “When the contractions come, you need to relax your body, breathe. You will only progress if you relax.” WHAT!?!?! She was officially black-listed—but I quickly learned she was right.
In order for the pain to be useful, you must press into it, you must walk through it (or sit and rock through it if we are talking actual labor). Paul says For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now [Romans 8:22, ESV]. Earlier, in verses 16-17, he says The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
Groans: guttural cries that escape a body uninhibited—calling out for rescue—pain that crushes you, changes your very makeup, opens you up so that you can do nothing less than usher new, vibrating, shimmery life into a world unaware: this is childbirth. Victory cries reverberate off white washed walls, held breath releases and the suffering is forgotten in the majesty and miracle of the new. Suffering is for a time, groaning lasts for the night, but shouts of deliverance are eternal. Joy that comes in the morning comes through the mourning.
Suffering with Christ is the avenue to knowing His goodness in your bones. “Heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ,” the intimacy of a Son and the hope of an heir is ours. Like a woman in labor, we groan for what is to come, and our hope is met ten-fold in Jesus.
Now here’s the kicker; suffering is how we get to know God’s goodness, and God’s goodness is what we cling to as we suffer. Circular thinking unless you consider this: Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. [Romans 8:26 ESV]
The Spirit groans along with us. Talk about the most hardcore doula we could ask for. God’s spirit is groaning for us, crying out our pain in an empathy that we cannot begin to comprehend. His Spirit in us testifies that we are his, chiding us from the inside to believe it for ourselves. We are children, heirs, filled with hope and made for eternity. His Spirit is that same that walked Him from the desperation of Gethsemane to the destination of the cross. The same spirit that raised Him from the dead lives in you, groaning your suffering before the God who speaks existence. He is listening, and the world trembles in anticipation for the glory to come.
Wait. Press in. You are heirs.