Of all the problems in the world, suffering is the hardest to face. Why is there so much suffering in our world, and why does God allow it?
Recently, Psalm 91 has been helping me to understand suffering in a new light.
It might strike you as a little strange because Psalm 91 would seem to indicate that we will never suffer any harm at all. It says things like, “A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.” No “disease,” no “pestilence,” indeed, “No harm will befall you” at all.
It can be a bit confusing to read this psalm in light of the suffering that many of us go through in life. It might even lead us to ask the question: “Am I doing something wrong?” But this is not the correct way to read this psalm. In fact, the only way for us to understand this psalm correctly is in the light of the cross of Christ.
Let me explain that a bit more. It is interesting that the main extended metaphor in this psalm is the image of a mother bird. For example, “He will cover you with His feathers and under His wings, you will find refuge.” This image is one of a God who draws close to us, who pulls us in under His wings and protects us. This is God’s heart toward us. The whole psalm is God’s heart toward us. But, we live in a broken and fallen world, filled with pain and suffering; how can God ultimately protect us from all of the evils of man? Well, there was really only one way, and Jesus did it.
I’m speaking of the cross.
The way God comes through on His promises in Psalm 91 is on the cross. There is a story of a farm in the Midwest of America that suffered through a terrible hail storm. The hailstones were so big they destroyed many of the crops. When the farmer went out to check the damage the next day, he found a bird's nest knocked to the ground. In it was a mother bird with her wings spread wide. When the farmer lifted her from the nest, he realized she was dead, but he found all her little chicks under her totally unharmed. How does God protect us from all harm the way He tells us He will in Psalm 91? He does it by dying for us. He did it on the cross.
In Luke chapter 4, when Jesus is being tempted in the desert, Satan quotes Psalm 91 to Jesus, saying, "Throw yourself down from the temple; the angels will catch you and not let you strike your foot against a stone." Satan was trying to tell Jesus that nothing bad had to happen to Him, and He didn't need to suffer. God wouldn't let Him harmed, never mind sent to the cross. But suffering had to be a part of Jesus’ story, and sometimes, of ours too. Thankfully, Jesus didn’t succumb to Satan’s temptations. He stayed the course and walked bravely to the cross so that the promises of Psalm 91 could truly be fulfilled one day, and He could “wipe every tear from their eyes” so, “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4).
Suffering is a bitter pill to swallow. But we serve a God who also ate the bitter pill. He suffered. He did it to defeat sin; He did it for you; He did it for me. When we read Psalm 91 in light of the cross, we realize that all of the promises of God’s heart to us in that psalm are "yes" and "amen" in Jesus Christ. No matter what befalls us on this earth, we can never be snatched from His hand.
Death itself has been defeated.
Jesus said in Mathew 23:37, “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” Jesus suffered; we suffer. But there is comfort in the suffering. There is comfort in the knowledge that our eternity is secure. Let us come close to Jesus and allow Him to gather us under His wings. Let us find peace in our Savior who gave everything for us.
Dominic Done wrote, "When we choose gratitude, we aren't denying our frustration and pain; we're planting seeds of hope in the midst of those fractured places. Gratitude leverages life's brokenness to allow the light in. Gratitude is the soul's war against despair.” In Christ, we have so much to be grateful for. He is our high tower, our ever-present help in time of need.
If you are in the midst of a broken and fractured place, know you are still surrounded by the love of God. Draw close to Him, and let Him draw you to Himself. He is a God who truly understands your pain. He is with you in your trouble, and one day, He will literally wipe every tear from your eyes.