“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” Romans 8:35
What if we truly believed suffering had a purpose?
What if we believed love conquers all?
Can you have them at the same time? Can you have one without the other?
These are serious questions I’ve considered recently. I am discovering that love and suffering go hand in hand. That’s not something I would’ve ever believed had I not experienced it.
An innocent child came into my friend Amy’s* life, bringing with him sunshine and a love unlike anything she’d known before. But she suffered with a disease at the expense of having this child in her life. A wretched, life-long disease that can never be cured. I’ve often wondered, would she trade one for the other? If it had been me, would I wish that I never had the disease on the worst of days? I know my friend wouldn’t, because then she would not know the love of this innocent, beautiful child.
Shelly* another friend has had inexplicable evil thrown into her direction over the last several years. Rejection, deceit, agony, and endless nights of debilitating anxiety have been her reality. Yet she has found herself seeking the arms of her Savior, and He’s been with her every step of the way. He has given her strength she never had before, one that is foundational to the two children she is raising. That strength produced a greatness to rise up in her in the face of evil. She is teaching her kids what it means to walk with the Lord in hard times, and that, my friends, will have a ripple effect through generations.
The more I’ve given thought to this concept that love and suffering go hand in hand, the more I’ve realized the magnitude of its truth.
Take romantic love for instance. There is such beauty and goodness in the love. Even if all our dreams come true and we have the perfect family for our lifetimes, we will, at some point, face grief. We live in a broken world and its devastating effects will inevitably happen to all of us- whether of our own making, or ‘til death do us part.
Take adoption/fostering for example. Is there anything more beautiful than pouring love onto a child in need? It can bring with it some of the most unparalleled emotions of deep, bonding love. But the traumatic suffering of the child, and the hardship and sacrifice of the adults involved are indescribable. Yet, it pours out each day, hand-in-hand: the suffering and the love.
Take missionaries for instance. Their heart is for others, to love and minister to the lost. They want others to experience the wholeness of Jesus and the promise of eternity. Missionaries know of the goodness and joy that is often unexplainable. Yet, that type of love is often met with hardship on the field: isolation, unforeseen circumstances that manifests in division, depression, longing, and sometimes persecution. They sacrifice comfort and what’s known to show this deep abiding love that can never be unbroken.
Yes, I am finding that suffering and love are inexplicably intertwined.
They can’t be without each other. At every turn, we as Christians must be mindful that our lives are either leading others to Christ or away from him. We can lead others to him in love and we can also lead them in suffering.
Love is always the undercurrent in a life full of brokenness, and that’s what Jesus experienced for us. His agonizing death on the cross for the sake of love proves that the two are hand in hand. As His blood poured out, he said, “Father forgive them.” No one has ever shown a greater love. John Piper once said, “the death of Jesus…wasn’t a fair trade. The Son of God died; rebels live. That’s not fair. That’s grace.”
His broken body for our whole ones. His rejection for our security. His sacrifice for our eternities. His death to bring us life.
Our hope in the shadows.
So, if you really evaluated your life, could you say the suffering is worth it? We know love is never a waste. It is always worth the sacrifice and the turmoil that comes. Both will grow you and both will change you. We can experience positive growth and change in love just as well as in suffering.
But you get to move forward in your days, at whatever place you are in, and decide how you view each of these. Is love really worth the risk in the darkness of the valley? We can take meticulous steps to avoid suffering, and we can even avoid real love, believing we are living a safe life from their presumed unwanted effects.
But is that really living?