His Fellowship in our Sufferings

H. G. "Butch" Walker

H. G. "Butch" Walker

Butch and his wife Karaña are friends of the Tittles.  Butch is certified by the Association for Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC)

Suffering makes us feel alone. It isolates. No one has ever felt like me.

Yet we all know that one of the most helpful things that someone can do to help another person in a trial is just to be there. Paradoxically, we both seek to withdraw and long to know that we are not alone.

One of the most frequent divine encouragements is “Fear not, I am with you.” While it is true that we are never alone, there is a special type of fellowship with the Lord associated with suffering.

2 Corinthians 1:5

For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.
There are several places like this that we talk of us sharing in Christ’s sufferings (see also Phil 3:10-11, 1 Pet 4:13, Rom 8:16-18). Paul even says that his own trials are completing the suffering appointed for Christ (Col 1:24).

But, conversely, there are also many indications that Christ joins us in ours. Most significantly, we are told that He became like us so that He would become a merciful and faithful high priest.

Hebrews 2:17-18

Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Later, the author of Hebrews tells us that Christ is able to sympathize with our weakness because He was tempted in every way that we have been (Heb 4:15). However, I have found that people often find themselves with a form of suffering that they struggle to believe Christ understands. Whether it’s depression, long-term illness, the loss of a spouse or something else, they find themselves saying “Christ never went through this.”

How do we respond to this? Does Christ really understand? How could He since He didn’t face many of our circumstances?

Let’s consider what it means to sympathize with someone else. As I think about my own capacity to sympathize, I find there are three factors that determine how much I am able to feel what others feel:

  1. My love (or lack of love) for that person. If I don’t love them, there is no compassion to begin with.
  2. My own experiences such that I know (or don’t know) what that feeling is like. If I’ve never experienced anything like what they are going through, I will struggle to understand.
  3. The level to which I am self-protective, not wanting to hurt like they are hurting. If I don’t want to be uncomfortable, I can keep from entering into their pain.

But how do those factors play out when we speak of Christ?

  1. We know that Christ’s love for us in boundless. He is the very definition of love and the source from which it flows.
  2. Hebrews 2:17-18 tells us that Christ entered into flesh for the very purpose of experiencing our suffering and temptation, in order that He might deliver us from it. He experientially knows the full range of human emotions. But, beyond that, we must remember that Christ was the one who actually designed all emotions. They were His idea. He created us in His likeness with emotions that reflect His character. Christ knows what we are feeling.
  3. Christ is never self-protective. In fact, Phil 2 tells us that He willingly gave up His place in Heaven in order to enter into our suffering. Christ’s incarnation is the ultimate example of someone moving toward another to enter into their mess and help sacrificially. He would never pull back to protect himself.

As I have considered these things, I’ve come to conclude that Christ does indeed understand our pain and, even, experience our pain along with us. He enters into the suffering that you and I experience and feels our very pain just as intensely as we do. Possibly even more intensely, because we have a tendency to try to protect ourselves when we can.

So, let me encourage you that when you feel that no one understands what you are going through, you are never alone. The one who understands, and even experiences your pain, will be with you to the end of the age.

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