Now, as my regular readers know, I'm a Christian. I love Jesus. I don't just believe--I know--He is in control and that He is coming back and is going to kick some serious butt in the suffering department. He will wipe every tear away and show us something so awesome that nothing we have suffered will matter.
But that's then....
I have to live right now. In this time. In this place. In this mess.
And so do you.
Sometimes (okay, always) it's hard for me to try to explain my burdens and sorrows to other Christians because I’m afraid I’m going to get some kind of pat, "versish" answer, like, "Just cast all your cares on Him and He will set you free." Or, "You just have to trust in Jesus to get you through it." Or, my most favorite (NOT!), "Well, you know God will never give you more than you can handle."
(OK, that last one is not even in the Bible. Look it up. I don’t care if there’s a popular song by Group 1 Crew right on the Christian stations that say it. It’s still false. The Bible says He will not tempt you beyond what you can bear. (I Corinthians 10:12-13) It even says He can’t tempt anyone to sin. (James 1:13) And most suffering—unless it’s actually God disciplining us, which is rare—doesn’t and can’t come from God anyway, (Job 34:10-12) so that misquote is seriously messed up. So let’s all just stop saying it.)
The fact is, in this life we will suffer. (That’s actually in the Bible—John 16:33. Not surprisingly, it’s one of Jesus’s less quoted promises.) But, that fact is not what I really struggle with. I expect to suffer and I know Christ suffered, died, and rose again to conquer the cause of our suffering—to break sin’s hold on the world and our own allegiance to it. But the Christian can find a sort of eternal perspective for most bad things that happen. When my friend died, I knew I’d see her again in Heaven. It doesn’t make me not miss her now, but I can look forward to a time I will no longer miss her. And Christ can bring amazing healing in what seem like insurmountably bad experiences—broken marriages, abuse, neglect, addictions, etc. Granted. (But it’s still pretty awesome and amazing!)
…But I still have some burdens that I feel will never go away. What about all those people who do not know Jesus? What about all of my friends and family and the strangers in China or down the block who suffer needlessly because they either don’t know or have rejected Him? I have this incredible burden for the people who share this world with me, and yet I often feel so incredibly powerless to really help them. I have cried and prayed about this often lately. That even if I am being incredibly blessed (which I am), I yet constantly grieve for those around me—I wear my sorrow for them like a heavy blanket I can’t put down. This doesn’t feel like “freedom in Christ.” It feels like being burdened by Christ. How can I find joy in my salvation knowing so many don’t yet know Him and, maybe, will never know Him?
The other day, as I was again contemplating these things while driving home, I was suddenly struck by a thought.
Jesus, too, was deeply emotionally burdened for the lost and suffering people of the world.
Duh, right? I mean, it’s pretty simple. It’s not like this is new information. But, to me in that moment, it was like I was seeing it for the first time. When the Bible says we have “freedom in Christ,” it’s talking about having freedom from our own sinfulness (if we so choose to accept it), it does not mean some kind of blanket freedom that means we should always be happy or jumping for “joy in the Lord.”
Even Christ didn’t have that kind of freedom in Christ!
He was a seriously miserable guy a lot of the time. (He weeps: John 11:35, He loses His cool: Matt. 23:33, He really loses His cool: John 2:15, He is in so much anguish His sweat fills with blood: Luke 22:44.) And I believe He STILL feels that way—for every man, woman, and child who is suffering in this moment, who feels rejected, who is fighting cancer, who is being cruelly abused, who is blinded by sin or pride, who has lost someone they love… who has not recognized God’s saving grace through Jesus’s sacrifice.
Freedom in Christ is not complete freedom from any and all feelings of despair or sorrow or longing. Christ mourned for the lost (John 11:35), He felt deep sorrow and anger at the lack of faith of His own disciples (Matt. 16:33), He longed for our salvation so desperately that He was willing to die a horrific death to make it possible (John 3:16-17).
Some sufferings in this life we get over, we heal, we see beyond. Some we don’t. Sometimes we have to wait and trust and hope even as we go through it. And that’s okay. God wants us to be burdened by the sufferings of those around us (Col. 3:12-13 & a boat-load more). He wants us to empathize and sympathize with those who need help, a leg up, a word of encouragement, a second chance….
So I can now pray, “Lord, break my heart for what breaks Yours,” and know that I’m not giving up my joy in the Lord. I’m just sacrificing some of my temporary happiness so I will be motivated to share that lasting joy with as many people as I can, while I can.