Written by Croix Menzel
Sitting on a wooden chair in my friends’ dorm room, I took another bite of my overcooked caramel roll. By the baker’s own admission, it was overcooked. I actually enjoyed the extra-chewy caramel. It was the only part of the morning I enjoyed. While the nine of us sat eating, we exchanged sarcastic comments about our new housing situation.
“I just love how hard and uncomfortable our new beds are. I was getting too much sleep anyway,” one person jibed.
“I JUST LOVE OUR NEW DORM ROOMS!” another yelled, assuming our new rooms were bugged with a microphone.
Just ten days earlier, we all lived in apartments off-campus. Comfortable beds. No curfew. More living space. Our own decorations. Relative privacy from the prying eyes of the government. Though enrolled in language classes at the local university, we were adults at least a few years removed from our undergraduate days. Within those short ten days, we were given the news of our mandatory relocation and made to follow through.
Life in East Asia, as in any cross-cultural living context, provided ample daily struggles: a simple trip to the ATM or grocery store could turn into an all-day excursion. Being a Christ-follower added even more struggles: having to be careful about talking about faith in fear of getting turned into the police.
Dealing with these daily struggles is not a mere course correction as though one is steering a ship. Rather, it is as a game of Jenga, where we are moving blocks to the top of the increasingly unstable tower. In the spring of 2018, my wife and I felt our tower starting to lean. The news of having to move was the last block for us. Our tower began to tumble. We made the decision that our dream of living in East Asia for years and years would come to an end in the next two months.
There we sat on Easter morning. Sleep-deprived. Stressed from moving. Fearful of government persecution. Uncertain of what the future held. Frustrated that our previously planned large Easter gathering with other foreigners was being postponed. I could hardly force a smile.
The Suffering of Christ
Jesus is no stranger to suffering. In the desert, he faced temptation from Satan himself (Matthew 4:1). He tells of his homelessness (Matthew 8:20). For associating with prostitutes and tax collectors, he was ridiculed (Matthew 9:11). He was so often surrounded by confused and helpless masses that he literally needed to sneak away (Luke 5:16). He was frequently misunderstood by his neighbors (Mark 6:3), his family (Mark 3:21), and his disciples (Luke 10:45). He experienced the gut-wrenching loss of a friend (John 11:11).
At the culmination of his earthly life, there is the Easter story. The story where he experienced betrayal at the hands of Judas (Luke 22:48) and desertion by all the disciples (Matthew 26:56). He stood falsely accused by both the crowds (Matthew 26:60) and the authorities (Matthew 27:12). He was scourged (Matthew 27:26) and killed on the cross (Matthew 27:50).
The Purpose of Suffering
The suffering that God allows in our lives is always for a purpose. Sometimes, suffering may come in the form of discipline, for our good (Hebrews 12:10). Other times, our suffering may exist to teach us to rely on God (2 Corinthians 1:9). In the moment, our suffering may appear to have no purpose, but has given us assurance that our afflictions are leading to “an eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Sometimes, suffering may just serve as a reminder (Philippians 3:10).
When Jesus received the news that his friend Lazarus was sick, he knew that his “sickness [would] not end in death” (John 11:4). Yet he went to be with his friends grieving the loss of Lazarus, who was now dead. “Jesus wept” (John 11:35), but he knew. He knew how the story would end. He knew the purpose of the story unfolding the way it did. There was purpose in Lazarus’ suffering, his friends’ and family’s suffering, and in Jesus’ suffering. There is purpose in our suffering too.
Suffering with Christ
On Easter Sunday 2018, I was suffering. When the Gospel fell on a hardened heart, I could relate with Christ being misunderstood. Having our home taken away, I could relate to Jesus not having a place to lay his head. With being forced to move, I could relate in a small way to Jesus’ words to Peter, that he would be taken where he does not want to go (John 21:18). In my times of temptation, ridicule, slander, loss, being overwhelmed by others’ needs, misunderstanding, Jesus has gone before me. He has gone before all of us, through suffering and into glory.
Jesus can sympathize with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15), as we see in the examples listed above. His suffering had many purposes, one of which was to show us that he is like us in our humanity. It delights God to go even further than sympathizing with us: He extends mercy and grace to us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
Today, if you are suffering or going through hard times, Jesus is with you. He knows your struggle. This is not the end of your story. He has an end written for your story that will be so much more beautiful and glorious than you can imagine.