When Circumstances Bring Suffering, Rejoice in Salvation
For most of us, the recent months have been the longest prolonged period of discomfort we have ever experienced. We’ve been frustrated by disruptions at work, in school, at the grocery store, and most recently in the extent to which we can celebrate holidays with family.
While I have struggled personally, the most challenging part for me has been watching others suffer seemingly without hope. As a student and college pastor, I am burdened—depressed may be a better description—by the overwhelming quantity of young people struggling with their mental health. I have seen student after student consumed with debilitating anxiety that results in them feeling out of control, hopeless, and purposeless.
What challenges the past year has brought into your life, I don’t know. But, I can only assume new struggles have presented themselves. If nothing else, I’m sure pre-existing challenges have intensified.
If I could take the experience of the previous year and boil it down into a single question, I might ask, ‘How do I respond rightly to circumstances that bring suffering?’
The book of Habakkuk, found in the latter portion of the Old Testament, is a challenging one. It contains prophecies of impending destruction, coming judgment, and confusion over why God allows hardship. While it grapples over the trials that existed at the time, the book also delivers confidence and joy in the goodness and faithfulness of God.
Habakkuk opens with this:
“2 O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? 3 Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. 4 So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.” Habakkuk 1:2-4 (ESV)
Bringing to God the burdens of our hearts in prayer is a good and right thing to do. In Philippians 4:6, the Apostle Paul tells us that we should “…not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
God does not leave us alone in our suffering. Rather, he encourages us to bring our concerns and anxieties to him as our loving Father (Matthew 6:9). In the same way, our earthly father desires for us to share with him our hearts, our hurts, and our hopes, our heavenly Father desires the same. We don’t pray to God to inform him of what’s going on as if he doesn’t already know. Instead, we pray to God to cast our cares and anxieties on Him so that we may have fellowship with him and so that we may plead with him to act on our behalf for his glory.
Is prayer our first response when the pain of hardship strikes? Or, are we more likely to pursue numbness found in the form of endless entertainment via social media or streaming services? Perhaps your tendency is to work harder and ‘fix’ things on your own. Whatever your response may be, God desires for us to bring to him the burdens of our hearts. Let’s not neglect the privilege of prayer that Christ purchased us on the cross.
But what about when it seems like the suffering will never end? Or, when so many awful things happen in the world it seems impossible for us to understand why God would allow such tragedy. What about when it feels like this ’season’ is no longer a season but instead it has become a lifestyle?
When Habakkuk cried out to God through prayer and asked for how long God would allow hardship, violence, and injustice, God responded with this:
"5“Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.” Habakkuk 1:5 (ESV)
You and I don’t have to receive an answer that we can understand. Instead, we can trust that God is doing a work that will be for our good and his glory.
This principle is perhaps most evident in Jesus’ death on the cross.
When God promised the defeat of Satan by Jesus in Genesis 3:15, who could have fully understood that meant God himself, in the person of Jesus, would step out of perfect unity and peace with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit and endure the humiliation and suffering of the cross?
At the cross, we have the epitome of “wonder and be astounded.” At the cross, we see clearly how God can work tragedy and injustice for good. At the cross, Jesus endured the most brutal torture known to mankind; more than that, Jesus endured the punishment by God for sin in place of mankind. The Romans had ‘perfected’ the suffering experienced in crucifixion. In Jesus’ crucifixion, the horrifying consequence of sin was on full display. Sin is punishable by death. That punishment was satisfied in the death of Christ on the cross.
Death and suffering, however, is not the end.
In the horror of the crucifixion, God was working ultimate good. While that is hard to comprehend, we have to understand God took the tragedy that was the crucifixion, and turned it into the greatest work of love the universe has and will ever see. In raising Jesus to life after three days, the curse of sin—which is death—no longer reigns. Death and suffering do not have the final victory. Life and joy do.
Habakkuk closes with this:
“17 Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. 19 GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.” Habakkuk 3:17-19 (ESV)
Amid the circumstances that brought suffering, Habakkuk ultimately trusted in the goodness and faithfulness of the LORD, “the God of my salvation.”
What about for you and for me? When circumstances are hard, when seemingly everywhere we look the world is marked by division, when uncertainty is the rule of our time and it seems as though ‘normal’ may never return, we must remember there IS certainty found in salvation through Christ. And, like Habakkuk, that should lead us to joy–abundant joy.
The hardships we face in this life are real and challenging. We should never minimize them. At the same time, we should remember that salvation is eternal and suffering is temporary. The salvation we receive through faith in Christ should sustain us in this life even when circumstances drain us.
The name ‘Habakkuk’ literally means ‘He who Embraces’ or ‘He Who Clings.’ My prayer for myself, and anyone reading this article, is that we would cling to the joy of the salvation we have received through Christ. And, in that, my prayer is that we would endure whatever hardship may come our way.
Thank you for sharing, Paul! When you mentioned “pre-existing challenges have intensified” it really resonated with me! I think having more down time, more time at home we tend to look more deeply into our thoughts and feelings. It’s been a year of emotions but also a year of deepened faith!
Hey, Loren! While I’m sorry to hear existing struggles have intensified, I’m thankful to hear faith has deepened. God is faithful! Good to hear from you.