Image Source: Time Out 4 God
When I attended Crandall University, I took a course called “Suffering” (a biblical studies course). I believe it ranked second in the category of Most Depressingly Titled Course after “Death and Grieving” (a psychology course). Who knows? Perhaps they now have even more dreary course options for those inclined to look at the darker side of life. But I digress.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that there is suffering in this world. We suffer physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We suffer from natural disasters, illness, warfare, and cruelty over which we have no control. We suffer justly as a consequence of our own decisions and unjustly as a consequence of the decisions of those we know and of those we will never meet. We suffer because of decisions made yesterday and hundreds of years ago, we suffer because of decisions made today, and we will suffer because of decisions made tomorrow.
Suffering’s Source and Remedy
The Bible tells us that suffering began when humans chose to rebel against God and go their own way (Genesis 3). The consequence of their sin was suffering. The serpent was cursed because he deceived the woman. The consequence of the woman’s sin was pain in childbirth and friction in her relationship with her husband. The consequence of the man’s sin was to struggle as he worked the ground that was cursed because of his sin. Humans would ultimately become part of the ground again in death.
All is not lost, however. A promise is included in God’s pronouncement of the curse on the serpent. Genesis 3:15 is commonly referred to as the Protoevangelium (the First Gospel) by biblical scholars and theologians: “And I will cause hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” This promise foreshadows Jesus’ death and resurrection. At the cross, the Serpent (Satan) strikes a non-fatal blow to Jesus’ heel. At the resurrection, Jesus strikes a fatal blow to the Serpent’s head, defeating sin and death.
The First Man and Second Man
Paul contrasts the actions of and consequences brought about through the first man, Adam, and the second man, Jesus, in Romans 5:12-21. I’ll let Paul’s words speak for themselves:
12 When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. 13 Yes, people sinned even before the law was given. But it was not counted as sin because there was not yet any law to break. 14 Still, everyone died—from the time of Adam to the time of Moses—even those who did not disobey an explicit commandment of God, as Adam did. Now Adam is a symbol, a representation of Christ, who was yet to come. 15 But there is a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ. 16 And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins. 17 For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.
18 Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. 19 Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous.
20 God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant. 21 So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Hope in Spite of Suffering
Jesus brought us hope in spite of suffering. He undid the damage that Adam’s sin had done to the human race. Anyone can receive Jesus’ gift of righteousness and live in triumph over sin and death. Those who choose to believe in Jesus can live with the knowledge that that are no longer guilty of their sins and are now free to live a life of thankfulness and righteousness.
But what about the sins that are committed against us? Can Jesus’ gift of righteousness undo the damage of those sins? The answer is a resounding “YES!”
Note verse 18 of the Romans passage above. Jesus brought a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. Jesus took away the world’s sin (John 1:29; John 3:16-17). In Jesus, the world was reconciled with God, who no longer counts their sin against them (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). John makes it clear that Jesus’ sacrifice was for the entire world, not just for believers: “He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world” (1 John 2:2).
Will everyone receive Jesus’ gift of righteousness? Unfortunately not. Everyone has to decide whether they will accept this gift by faith (Ephesians 2:8).
For believers, however, forgiveness for the world’s sin is good news! Not only do believers have triumph over their own sins but they also have triumph over the sins of others because Jesus paid for it all. Believers who have been sinned against in even the most horrific ways have hope that they are healed by Jesus’ wounds (1 Peter 2:24).
Romans 8 is full of hope for believers. It is a wonderful passage to read (or, better yet, memorize and recite to yourself) whenever you need encouragement. Romans 8:35-39 is a special reminder to believers that God loves them even when they suffer from things beyond their control:
35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Don’t lose hope! Nothing can separate you from God’s love. Overwhelming victory is ours through Christ!