If this is the way you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few.
-Teresa of Avila
Even if you’ve never said it, you’ve probably felt it. St. Teresa’s words can stab us when we’re suffering. After all, aren’t we friends of Christ and Children of God? (Ps. 25:14, John 15:15, 1 John 3:1)
Because, is this how friends treat friends? Or how good parents love their kids?
We desperately need truth to counterattack the lie that a loving God wouldn’t let his children suffer. Because Satan would love to sift the faith right out of us. And he does a lot of sifting with just that lie.
He even tried it on Jesus.
If You Are The Son Of God…
Those sneaky words are bookends: If you are the Son of God. Christ’s ministry begins and ends with those words being hurled at him.
Bookend 1: After 40 days of fasting Jesus was hungry. And the tempter came and said, If you are the Son of God, turn these stones to bread. (Matt. 4:1-4)
Bookend 2: Fast forward three years to the cross. Hear the crowds abuse the Christ on the cross. They use the same exact words: If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross… (Matt. 27:40)
Between the bookends (Matt. 16:21-23), Peter does it too. Jesus had just explained how that he must,
…suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed.” At that, Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” (Mtt. 16:21-22)
I probably would have said the same: Assert your beloved son status. You shouldn’t have to hunger or suffer like this. Maybe God won’t really provide.
Because being a beloved son or daughter of the King seems like it ought to bring some big perks. Like, say, not having to suffer this way.
Away From Me, Satan!
Suffer many things and be killed doesn’t sound the least bit loving. But Jesus stood on truth.
He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” (Matt. 16:23)
To bypass that suffering would have been nothing short of satanic. Because God’s interests demanded that His beloved Son suffer (Mtt. 3:17). For us and for our salvation he suffered, the righteous for the unrighteous to bring us to God. All of God’s interests are good (Ps. 119:68).
But that can be pretty hard to hear when life gets hard.
So the first and last temptations of Christ and Peter’s words in the middle have this lie at the core: If you suffer, God must not love you. End your hunger pangs: Turn these stones to bread. End your suffering: Come down off the cross. Satan loves to plant this seed of doubt that: suffering = unloved.
But Jesus would have none if it. To Peter, he said: “Get behind me Satan.” Which sounds an awful lot like what he said at the end of his wilderness temptation (Matt. 4:10), “Away from me Satan.”
Spare Me, Or Not
Kill that doubt! Don’t buy the lie that God spares his children suffering. Kill the doubt by looking first to Christ. In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered (Heb. 2:10).
If for the Firstborn, so for the other sons and daughters. If for the Shepherd, so for the sheep.
There was a fitness of suffering for the Author of our faith and there is a fitness for the faithful. Jesus knew this. Thank God he knew this. But Satan got it too, so he twisted and abused it. Peter didn’t get it and the crowds at the cross didn’t either.
Do you get it? Do I?
Suffering takes countless forms. What’s hard for me, might not be for you. Lately my “trials” -if I can even call them that- have been mental, taking the form of dashed hopes. This week, one son’s first semester grades brought my little dream of a four generation, top-of-the-class, streak to a screeching halt. High hopes from 13 years ago of another sort are also grinding down.
This suffering is meager and weak. It’s just layers of selfish dragon skin being peeled off bit by bit. It has to come off before heaven anyway. And it’s not worth comparing to heartache, cancer, and decades of pain that friends of mine face. But that little stuff, when I’m feeling weak, is enough to give a twinge of doubt.
Because we just don’t get it. Try as we might, we just don’t. We think:
We don’t think:
We misunderstand his love.
Don’t Misunderstand Suffering
It was misunderstood then- by Peter, the rulers, the soldiers, and a criminal on the cross: He trusts in God; let God deliver him, if he delights in him. For he said, ‘I am the son of God,’ (Matt. 17:43). In other words, If God really loved you, he’d spare you from this.
In our heart of hearts, we misunderstand too. If he delighted in me, he’d spare me this_____________ (Insert your loneliness, illness, loss, heartache, temptation, or pain). If God really loved me, he’d see that my mama longings are all fulfilled.
If we are children of God, glory awaits. We are heirs of eternal life. But guess what comes before glory?
Suffering With Him
Paul tells us in Romans 8:16-17. 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.
Provided we suffer with him. Suffer. With. Him. He did. We do. He does with us. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:18)
Our Lord Jesus was tempted. And his response to the If you are a son temptations show that Jesus knew. Pain does not mean forsaken and suffering ≠ unloved. In fact, for the child of God, suffering prepares glory.
But be ready. Because the same taunt that was hurled at Jesus tempts us today: If you are a child of God, you wouldn’t have to deal with this. If you were loved, he’d spare you. But we know that’s a lie from the pit of you know where.
Because Jesus Christ suffered and died and was raised to life to prove God’s love. Because God did not spare his beloved Son.
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?