We all experience trials during this life on earth. Some trials are harder than others. Those of us who counsel people during such times are able to share much biblical truth with them. Our counselees may have many questions, doubts and fears.
When we go through dark valleys, we face the temptation to rebel against God, or to doubt His love and His goodness. We sometimes question where He is and why He’s allowing us to go through our suffering. Our job as counselors is not to necessarily relieve our counselees’ doubts and fears, but to help them draw near to God.
Biblical Truths to Know
An especially helpful passage in the Bible to help us in times of suffering is 1 Peter. The theme of this epistle is how to respond in the midst of suffering. Peter wants to equip his readers for hard times to come, and thus to help us develop an eternal perspective regarding suffering.
Peter begins by telling us that God has already given us some tremendous blessings: His mercy, new birth, a living hope, an inheritance in heaven, and that by His power He is shielding us until salvation is fully revealed in the last time. But Peter also wrote that we will have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. He explains that we experience trials to purify our faith and to prove it genuine (1 Peter 1:3-7).
Later on, Peter tells us not to be surprised at the painful trials we suffer as if something strange was happening to us. He wants us to understand that we are participating in the sufferings of Christ, and for that we are to rejoice (1 Peter 4:12-13).
Connecting Truth to Real Life
These are important truths to know and it’s important that we have a good foundation of sound theology as we go through suffering. But in my own life I have found that intellectual knowledge is not enough to carry me through my sufferings if I’m not connecting what I know to real life. I need His grace and help to know how knowledge and real life intersect.
We can come up with biblical answers to suffering—the fall, living in a sin-cursed world, facing evil people who do evil things—but these can still leave us feeling hopeless. Theoretical knowledge is not the same as practical knowledge.
We need God to help us understand experientially what we know intellectually. We desperately desire to experience His comfort, His peace, His strength. We want to know He’s with us and that His grace is indeed sufficient. And the only way to really know and experience God deeply in these ways is to be willing to wrestle with these deep issues rather than becoming complacent or stoic. Not only do we need to know about God, we need to know God.
Drawing Near to God in Times of Trouble
What we (and our counselees) have to do is to choose to draw near to God and to pour out our hearts to Him. We have to do this even when our feelings of despair seem overwhelming and He seems distant and unloving for allowing such pain into our lives. And we have to do this by faith. Faith that God sees, God knows, God cares, and that He will meet us where we are. Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” In times of trouble, God promises to draw near to us.
Learning Through Suffering
If we want to grow in wisdom, humility, and perseverance, we have to understand that we have much to learn from our times of suffering that we would not learn otherwise. Jesus is our example of the kind of attitude we need to have in times of trouble. Hebrews 5:7-9 says,
During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him…
When Jesus was about to go to the cross, He cried out to God with loud cries and tears. This is a picture of His human weakness and absolute dependence on God. And God heard Him. Yet God did not rescue Jesus from going through the suffering of the cross. Instead God allowed Him to learn obedience from His painful suffering.
Jesus didn’t have to learn to obey. He always obeyed His Father. But Jesus had to learn through actual experience what obedience entails so that He could become our merciful and sympathetic High Priest. Knowing He fully understands our struggles gives us confidence to approach the throne of grace to find mercy and grace in our times of need (Hebrews 4:16). He alone is able to truly help us we walk through the valley of the shadow of death for He is with us (Psalm 23:4).
As we counsel others, it’s okay to let them ask the tough questions regarding their suffering. We can encourage them to think deeply about what Jesus suffered on our behalf so that He could fully taste what we go through. It’s also okay to allow them to wrestle with this so that in the end they will know God in ways they never imagined.
Going through painful suffering is not easy nor something we would choose, but it affords us the opportunity to know and experience the love, mercy and grace of God that truly satisfies our souls. And hopefully we’ll one day say that we wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.