People traveled far to hear John the Baptist speak. His ministry had touched the lives of thousands, from poor, struggling Jewish men and women, to hardened Roman soldiers, and even to King Herod himself. Then, at the height of his manhood and ministry, he found himself rotting in jail, robbed of his usefulness, tortured in spirit, and battling the whispers of demons: “God has forsaken you. If Jesus really is the Messiah, if He is good, then why isn’t He delivering you from suffering? How could He allow this to happen to you?”
Seeking psychological calm, mental guidance, and help in coping, John sent his friends to Jesus. Through them, Jesus gave John what he needed—a revelation of Himself and of the true nature of His kingdom. He would bring all suffering and injustice to an end, but first He must win the hearts of men and women through a revelation of the self-sacrificing love of God, a love that was willing to suffer for them.
John saw that Jesus’ mission could win from the nation’s leaders only hatred and condemnation. As John had paved the way for Christ’s ministry, introducing Him to the masses and now suffering unjustly, he realized that he was but drinking of the cup that Christ Himself must drain to the last drop. With this, John surrendered himself to God for life or for death, as should best serve the interests of the cause he loved. John the Baptist realized that he was sharing in something bigger than himself. It became an honor for him to become a partaker.
When we understand that we are suffering with the One who loves us above all others, that He is with us, and that nothing shall separate us from His love, that trials will only bring us closer to our suffering Savior, then the bitter can become sweet. “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned” (Isa. 43:1, 2, NKJV).
I will be with you. When you love someone, being with that person is the dominant desire. “The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart” (Ps. 34:18, NKJV).
The waters shall not overflow you. Have you ever seen surfers riding monstrous tsunami-size waves? Comparable to jumping off a cliff, they courageously drop onto nearly 100-foot swells. The wave begins to curl and then crash. For a moment the surfer is hidden. He has been riding the tube and now is sliding out of the tunnel. Then it appears that the whole wave has crashed, and again he is lost to sight. The waters must have overflowed him. But no, out of the mountains of mist and spray a speck appears. He is in front of that wave! He is still standing!
Surfer Dave Kalama describes surfing such waves, being next to that much raw power, as a spiritual experience. “A wave,” he says, “is essentially energy passing through the ocean until it breaks and disperses. To be that close to that much energy being released can be humbling.”1 We too will be humbled and awed as we draw near to the power and energy of God. To be close is what we desire. Yet, waiting for all seekers is an antagonistic power, attempting in every way to thwart such intimacy.
Paul wrote, “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake” (Phil. 1:29, KJV). Did Paul mean we are to passively accept suffering as a part of life? Absolutely not. The Bible also says, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour [through temptation, trials, and suffering]. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (1 Pet. 5:9, NIV, adapted). Resist. Fight it. The call is to do whatever we can to alleviate suffering, not only in our own lives but in the lives of all of our brothers and sisters around the world who are suffering as well.
In dealing with the pain, remember that you have options. You can numb the pain with a chemical of choice. You can blame yourself until you are good for nothing. You can grow angry and bitter, which will result in the decaying of your soul. You can grow apathetic and icy, stuffing the pain in a corner, and therefore being less of who you really are. Or you can discover a level of intimacy with a Companion and Friend like no other. He will meet you in the darkness and gently lead you back to the light. There will come a day when you will look back and “remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering” (Heb. 10:32, NIV, 1984). “And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Pet. 5:10, NIV, 1984). After you have endured, you will be immovable. Strong, firm, and steadfast will be your relationship with Christ.
Remembering his days of suffering in the Auschwitz Nazi prison camp, Viktor Frankl wrote, “When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task. . . . His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden. . . . Suffering had become a task on which we did not want to turn our backs. We had realized its hidden opportunities. . . .”2
How you bear your suffering depends upon where you focus at such times. Too often we tightly shut our eyes, waiting for the pain to pass. But if we will keep them open, groping in the darkness after Him, searching for His provision during such times, He has promised that He will be found in us. We will find Him near, very near, drinking from the same cup.
1 Nicole Davis, “Surfing into Jaws,” Adventure Magazine, Jul. 2002. http://www.nationalgeographic.com/ adventure/0207/q_n_a.html.
2 Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992), p. 86.