What About Unbearable Suffering?

Ann Spangler
Ann Spangler

At times, suffering can seem unbearable. A child dies. A spouse betrays us. We face financial ruin. What then? How do we get through the endless days ahead? Where do we find the grace to untangle the dark emotions that threaten to smother the light inside us? Though time can bring perspective and often a healing one, what about those times when no redemptive story emerges? When our suffering seems pointless and useless?

I lost my sister in a car accident when she was only sixteen. A careless man ran a red light on a foggy October morning, ramming his truck into our car. That was decades ago, and I have yet to discover a redemptive purpose for her death. I cannot make sense of it, but that does not prevent me from entrusting my sister and my grief into God's hands, believing that he is able to bring something good out of something that is not good.

Joni Eareckson Tada has been a quadriplegic for most of her life. She broke her neck in a diving accident when she was only seventeen. Despite, or perhaps because of her hardships, she has developed a vibrant faith and a thriving ministry to people who suffer from a variety of disabilities. Here's what she's learned about following Jesus:

The cross is the center of our relationship with Jesus. The cross is where we die. We go there daily. It isn't easy.

Normally, we will follow Christ anywhere--to a party, as it were, where he changes water into wine, to a sunlit beach where he preaches from a boat. But to the cross? We dig in our heels. The invitation is so frighteningly individual. It's an invitation to go alone.

Suffering reduces us to nothing and as Soren Kierkegaard noted, 'God creates everything out of nothing. And everything which God is to use, he first reduces to nothing.' To be reduced to nothing is to be dragged to the foot of the cross. It's a severe mercy.

When suffering forces us to our knees at the foot of Calvary, we die to self. We cannot kneel there for long without releasing our pride and anger, unclasping our dreams and desires.... In exchange, God imparts power and implants new and lasting hope.

As Joni discovered, catastrophic suffering imposes a terrible burden on us, a cross more cruel and painful than any we may imagine. Yet even in the midst of our struggles, God will not forsake us. Even though we are reduced to nothing, He will give us the power we need, implanting in us a new and lasting hope.

1. Joni Eareckson Tada and Steven Estes, When God Weeps (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 135-36.


Originally published June 09, 2020.