Updated: Oct 4, 2018
Many of us go through difficult seasons that seem to last forever. Illness, loneliness, financial uncertainty, depression, and more stretch on from hours to day to years and even to decades without an end in sight. But no matter how long that difficulty lasts, we cannot and should not assign the word “forever” to those longterm thorns in our sides. To say or worry that our suffering will last forever is to dwell in hopelessness and forget the promises and comforts of God. It also robs us of the ability to glorify Him in the midst of those painful periods. So what are we to do with suffering when it seems endless?
For starters, we can remove the word “forever” from our vocabularies when it comes to painful periods of waiting and suffering because thanks to Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross and resurrection, we know that our afflictions—though they are definitely real and need to be addressed—are light and momentary (2 Corinthians 4:17). Instead, we should apply the word “forever” to the concepts it truly describes. But what DOES last forever? I’ll walk through three things we can joyfully count on to endure forever.
According to Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” This means that Jesus—and the rest of the Trinity—have and will always possess the same characteristics such as righteousness, unrivaled power, omniscience, mercy, being just, being loving, etc. So no matter how our circumstances change, we can always count on the fact that our supremely powerful God is constant in who He is. And that brings us to…
Psalm 136 repeats the phrase “for his steadfast love endures forever” 26 times. What is love? 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 describes love as a set of actions and attitudes, but I’d rather focus on Romans 5:6-11, which says that God showed his love for us by sending Jesus to die for us so we could be reconciled with Him. That sacrificial love is just as available, perfect, and powerful today as it was the day Jesus died because God’s covenants also endure forever (Psalm 111:9). As Christians, our suffering sanctifies us by building endurance, character, and hope in Christ, who is the only and ultimate solution for the brokenness that’s breaking our hearts.
Exodus 15:18 says that “The LORD will reign forever and ever.” This truth is reiterated in other passages such as Psalm 29:10, Psalm 45:6, Psalm 102:12, Lamentations 5:19, Luke 1:32-33, Hebrews 1:8, Revelation 11:15, and more. God is perfectly, eternally sovereign over all of creation. Is our world broken? Yes, but that brokenness is not a sign of a lack of God’s reign but indicative of the way sin has marred humanity and the world we live in. God is simply being patient in how He addresses that sin because He wants people to repent (2 Peter 3:9) and enjoy the fullness of joy that comes from knowing Him (Psalm 16:11). However, one day God will make all things new and remove the damaging presence of sin from the world, including pain, suffering, and death (Revelation 21).
In light of these amazing truths, how should we deal with our suffering? Even though it is a vapor in comparison to eternity, it can still drive us closer to God or inspire us to pull away from Him, so I suggest drawing nearer to God and forming deep, authentic friendships with other Christians and letting them into your pain.
The body of Christ is meant for more than just singing songs and listening to sermons together on Sundays. According to Hebrews 10:24-25, we are called to meet together and encourage one another, and 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says that God comforts us so we can show His comfort to one another. People who know God can show you immense compassion by weeping with you about the tragedy, loneliness, or injustice that is stealing your joy so you can do the same for someone else one day. They can also remind you of truth when your pain is so loud that you can barely think about anything else. When you fall, they lift you up. When you have a burden, they help you bear it. When you feel hopeless, they remind you of the certainty of God’s promises and the intimate comfort God will give you one day.
God has kept a count of your tossings and put your tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8) — tears that He will wipe away when the world is finally redeemed (Revelation 21:4). That blessed day will not just be the day you receive the best comfort you could ever possibly receive. It will also be the beginning of a world where comfort isn’t even necessary anymore because suffering will be nothing more than a distant memory instead of an oppressive, present reality.
Until then, draw near to God, seek Christian community, and pray for the endurance you need to stand strong so you can one day show the love and compassion you’ve experienced to other people. No matter how crushing your affliction is, God can use it for good (Genesis 50:20) for you through sanctification (Romans 5:3-5) and for others by giving you a story of faith and peace that surpasses understanding and points to the hope you have in Christ.
Kristen Reed, a graduate of the University of Texas at Dallas, is an artist, filmmaker, and author from Dallas, Texas. As a Christian, her faith heavily influences her writing and is the driving force in her life. Visit Amazon to discover her books!