While comparing our personal pain to the suffering of others, does little to promote compassion and care, I’ve come to recently learn that there is a comparison that does deepen our connection with others, opens the door to empathy and promotes healing in ourselves and hope for all who are afflicted.
A couple of Sundays ago at our church, Pastor Steve, spoke on a passage hidden in the heart of the New Testament book of Romans. In many ways the apostle Paul was an expert in suffering. He had endured a great deal. What he writes on suffering it is never trite. He understood deep misery, loss, and betrayal. Pastor Steve pointed out that Paul doesn’t actually recommend comparing our sorrows against the sufferings of another. That type of comparison kills. But rather, Paul encourages us to compare our suffering with the glory that lies ahead. One day it will all be over. The grief of the globe, the pain of the planet, the quiet hurts of the isolated, the traumatized, victims of injustice or of a quaking earth….all of it will be over. This type of comparison brings comfort and consolation.
In the meantime we are allowed to groan.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. (Ps 34:18)
God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matt 5:4)
I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groans and have come down to rescue them. (Acts &:34)
The apostle Paul says that creation groans in agony. She is waiting for the day when she’s freed from death and decay. We are given permission to groan too. We suffer. We are in anguish. We long to be released from sin and suffering. Groaning is a perfectly legitimate response. But we do so with hope and with expectancy. There is surely glory ahead!
It’s important to be realistic about our own pain. That’s true. Avoid the temptation to minimize your sorrow. It’s also important to be realistic about the hope of glory that we have. Comparing our pain to the coming glory, and with it the relief and rest, allows us to better connect with others in their pain. It gives us a focal point on the horizon to point people to. Look ahead. See what’s coming! Jesus himself, the Man of Sorrow, who ministers to the broken and the weighed down, is on his way. And we remember that by his wounds we are healed. Glorious hope and healing are present and possible because of Who’s coming! The Nepali, broken and bruised and afraid, will find healing and peace and redemption. The city of Baltimore, full of anger and fear, will find justice and restoration and the Balm of Gilead.
That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens. (Romans 8:18-21)