Where to Look in Suffering

This post was originally published at The Gospel Coalition Australia.

When hard times come, where do you turn for help and comfort? Our self-esteem culture tells us to look inside ourselves to find the strength to carry us through. Or you might seek comfort in vices like overeating, porn, or excessive video games or television. Anything to escape the pain for a little while.

As Christians, we’re often told look to Jesus in hard times. But what does this mean? Will it be enough to keep you afloat in the choppy waters of affliction? It will—if you know how to look.

Look Back

Our faith and hope are rooted in a historic event: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What impact does this have on our lives two thousand years later?

Firstly, it reveals God’s character. In the cross we see a perfect display of his love, mercy and sovereignty. We deserve eternal separation from God because of our sins, but he sent Jesus to reconcile us to him. We’ve already been saved from the worst pain imaginable. As God’s character is unchanging (James 1:17), we are comforted by knowing that same God is with us in all our trials today.

Jesus is also an example to us in suffering. The writer of Hebrews uses the cross as a reference point. As we run the race of faith, we should remember how Jesus endured suffering for the sake of what lay ahead (Hebrews 12:2–3). He knew his death and resurrection would achieve salvation for all who believe in his name. When we follow in the footsteps of our suffering Saviour, we can trust we will also share in his glory.

Look Up

When God commanded Joshua to lead Israel into the promised land, he strengthened him by his word: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

We can be just as certain of God’s presence, as we have his Spirit dwelling within our own hearts. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23). Although he no longer lives on earth in physical form, he has promised not to leave those who follow him (Matthew 28:20). So when trials come, we can look up at the God who has never left us for a moment.

Amy Carmichael, a missionary to India in the early twentieth century, wrote that we’re often tempted to sin in times of suffering. She counsels us in how to respond:

“I do not know of any way of escape so sure and so swift as a long steady look at our beloved Lord; and then, having escaped that snare of the fowler, let us do what the bird does—sing.” 1

There is abounding comfort to be found when we look up at our God who is indeed a “very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). He can keep us from sin in the hardest times.

Look Ahead

We need to look beyond the suffering that clouds our vision. Romans 8:18 tells us that the suffering we face in this life is “not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us”. Beyond death, when we’ve passed a blissful hundred thousand years in the presence of our Saviour, we will not begrudge a single painful moment of this life.

In Tolkien’s Return of the King, Frodo and Sam are struggling against despair as they approach Mount Doom. One weary night, Sam looks upwards:

“Far above the Ephel Dúath in the West the night-sky was still dim and pale. There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.” 2

Look to the eternity beyond that Jesus has won for you; cling to it even when you can only see the faintest ray. For all pain will end and we will have fullness of joy forever. This shadow really is only a passing thing.

It’s as simple and difficult as that. Look back at what Jesus has done for you. Look up and see him working right now. Look ahead to the glorious future he has promised. Look to Jesus in your darkest night—fix your gaze on him and let him steady your trembling knees.

  1. Amy Carmichael, Thou givest…they gather, Lutterworth Press, London, 1959, p. 28.
  2. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, HarperCollins, London, 2012, p. 922.

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