3 Promises for the Suffering

Some of you reading this right now are in a lot of physical pain. It hurts to get out of bed in the morning. Your body has betrayed you sooner than you hoped. Your mind is still sharp, and you still feel young at heart, but your body is decaying rapidly. Your physical suffering is immense. You love life and love your family, but you long for that day when this earthly tent is torn down, and you receive a post-resurrection body from Jesus, one that will never know pain again. Some of you reading this right now are enduring a lot of emotional pain. You're enduring abuse or hardship or trial. You're having to care for a loved one with a terminal illness, or you are experiencing fractures in your marriage or family, or you're facing unemployment or other financial hardship. You feel like life's ocean waves are too great, that it's no longer within you to keep kicking and holding your head above water. You just want to know peace once again, but you feel as if you will drown at any moment.

Across the globe, people are hurting, whether it's in Nepal or Baltimore or next-door. When we suffer, we inevitably turn our eyes to heaven and ask with the Old Testament prophet, "How long, O Lord!?"

How glorious it is that, in the midst of our suffering and pain, the Bible assures us of three great promises!

1. God has already declared an end to our suffering, and He has the power to bring it about.

In Genesis 18, there is a delightful story about God visiting Abraham and Sarah to announce the birth of Isaac in less than a year. Sarah does not believe the promise and laughs, inspiring Isaac's name. The narrator of Genesis 18 goes to great lengths to underscore their advanced age, that there was no way the should be having children, especially naturally. Notice vv. 11-12.

  • Now Abraham and Sarah were old,
  • advanced in years.
  • The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah.
  • So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out,
  • and my lord is old,
  • shall I have pleasure?”

Essentially, not only were they old, but Sarah was no longer experiencing "that time of the month," and she and Abraham were no longer sexually intimate.

For 25 years, they had suffered without a son of their own. A quarter-century of whispers and pitiful looks from strangers and low self-esteem were about to give away to the joy of a child of their very own. God had decreed an end to their suffering and was powerful enough to bring it about. Scholar John Walton convincingly argues that Sarah was in the tent (v. 9) because her period had started just as the divine strangers had arrived, triggering the resumption of her fertility. All this serves to highlight the fact that not even the limits of biology can stand in God's way. He is indeed a God who can make the impossible possible.

To those of you who are suffering, the Bible promises that God has already decreed an end to your suffering, and that He is powerful enough to effect it, regardless of what stands in the way!

2. God often shortens the season of suffering because of His mercy.

In Daniel 7, the prophet saw in a night vision something that deeply unsettled him. Four beasts emerged from a cosmic sea, and the fourth was especially ferocious. Daniel describes it as "terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth; it devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns."

Later, Daniel was told concerning this beast, "He shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and shall think to change the times and the law; and they shall be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time" (Dan. 7:25).

In Scripture, the number seven symbolically represents completion or wholeness. In Daniel, "seven times" represents a full or complete period of judgment or suffering (cf. Dan. 4:16, 25). So in Dan. 7:25, "time, times, and half a time" or 3 1/2 does not represent a chronological period, but half of 7. In other words, Daniel is told that the saints shall be given into the hand of the fourth beast, not for a full or complete period of suffering, but for a truncated period. Out of mercy for his people, God will cut short that season of suffering (cf. Dan. 7:26-27; 12:7; Rev. 12:14). This is exactly what God did when he punished David for numbering his troops; the plague was to last three days, but God in his mercy cut it short (cf. 2 Sam. 24:15-16).

To those of you who are suffering, the Bible promises that God often shortens the season of suffering because of His mercy. Though he has decreed an end to your suffering, he is also willing to cut it short, to speed the day when relief and redemption are realized. Lift your voice in prayer to God and beg him for relief, for he always listens to the cries of his people as a loving Father.

3. All suffering and evil and wickedness cannot stand before the Lord Jesus Christ.

In 2 Thessalonians, Paul wrote to Christians who were suffering. They were not yet being thrown to the lions or crucified in the arena; more likely, the persecution in Thessalonica took the form of social ostracism. Nonetheless, they were suffering, and Paul was proud of their love and steadfast faith in the face of such discouragement. He thus reminded them in 1:6-10 that:

God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.

In the next chapter, Paul spoke of an enigmatic man of lawlessness, one who becomes Satan's greatest agent on earth and represents the greatest personification of evil the world will ever know. Yet even this man is blown away by the full force of Jesus' glory when our King returns! All suffering and evil and wickedness cannot stand before the Lord Jesus Christ!

To those of you who are suffering, especially at the hands of the wicked, know that God will repay your oppressors and bring you relief when Christ comes again. Evil cannot stand against Christ, and if he is the King and Guardian of your heart, you have no reason to fear. Remain hopeful, watchful, and prayerful.

For all who suffer, let us heed the command of Peter: "Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good" (1 Pet. 4:19).

Father, thank you for the great promises in your Word. Help us to trust in you when we suffer, particularly in the fact that you know the end from the beginning, that you have decreed an end to our suffering, that you even truncate such difficult seasons out of mercy and concern for us. Most of all, thank you for your promise to judge and punish evil forever, for the fact that evil cannot stand against you. Thank you for the peace you give us. Hear the cries of your people, and may you redeem us from all suffering one day that we might praise your glory forever. In Jesus' Name.

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