When we talk about our frontlines, it is with a largely positive tone. This is understandable. For many of us, whole-life discipleship offers a sense of empowerment and fulfillment. When we realize that God cares about our everyday lives, those ordinary spaces—our work life, our leisure time, our relationships—become exciting opportunities to experience God and see Him at work. It is a joyful thing to know that your mundane existence can be part of the work of God in the world.
But it would be disingenuous and downright foolishness to suggest that our frontlines don’t bring with them suffering in various forms. We live in a broken world, after all. Relationships aren’t always smooth sailing. Our work is not always fulfilling. We do not always abide in a sense of joy and purpose in our place. We experience personal and communal difficulties and griefs, many of which we discussed throughout our Through the Valley series last year.
In this last full week of Lent, I’m reflecting on what the sufferings of Jesus say to this suffering we experience on the frontline. How might the life and death of Jesus (more to come about the resurrection in the coming weeks!) encourage us when we face pain, disillusionment, or discouragement on the frontline?
Jesus has first-hand experience with working in a fallen world. When Jesus took on flesh, he willingly entered into the human experience of life in a broken world. He did not walk around in an edenic bubble, as though the normal “rules” did not apply. Though we don’t read about all of the examples of this in Scripture, we can use our holy imagination based on what we do know. In his life as a carpenter, Jesus probably got splinters and maybe had the keen pain that comes when your hammer doesn’t quite hit the mark you intended. He experienced the toil that comes with work in our world—tools that dulled and broke, wood that warped and split. He sweat and bled. He grew tired and hungry. These things we experience in our work are not foreign to him. When we experience difficulties and feelings of futility, we can find Someone who understands, and also give thanks that He willingly took on this existence for our sake.
Jesus has experienced painful and complicated relationships. Jesus did not live in an edenic bubble when it came to His relationships either. He had friends desert him, fall asleep when they should have been supporting him, deny they knew him, and even betray him for money. When we face rejection, mockery, or disappointment in people we thought we could trust, we can rest assured that Jesus has walked this road as well.
Jesus knows what it means to be a victim of injustice. He had leaders wrongfully criticize, mock, and punish him. He was arrested, tortured, and killed based on accusations fueled by jealousy, misrepresentation, and a thirst for power. Nothing we experience can compare to the injustice of the sinless Son of God dying the death of a common criminal. But this does not mean the injustices we face are not painful and do not matter to God. Once again, we can find comfort that our suffering Savior understands this experience. Even more so, when this injustice comes as a result of our faithful witness to Jesus, we can remember that He called us “blessed” in our suffering.
Jesus’ sufferings and death offer forgiveness for the sin that sometimes causes our suffering. Without a doubt, we experience suffering that is not the result of our own misdeeds. Suffering comes sometimes as a result of the sin of others and sometimes as a result of life in a broken world. But sometimes the suffering we experience is a result of our sin. Maybe that strained relationship is a result of our harsh words. Maybe the criticism of our boss is warranted. But in these moments, too, we can find comfort. When we fall short on our frontlines, when we sit in the midst of the consequences of our sin, we can find the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus.
When we experience suffering on the frontline, we can also find hope. We have a suffering Savior who understands and has entered into our pain. And we have a Savior who suffered to make a way for our forgiveness. In both, we give thanks.
Diana Gruver (MA, Gordon-Conwell) writes about discipleship and spiritual formation in the every day. She is the author of Companions in the Darkness: Seven Saints who Struggled with Depression and Doubt. You can find her online at www.dianagruver.com or on Facebook or Twitter. Diana originally published this work with the Vere Institute (Oct 2014 – May 2021), which was founded to empower Christians to integrate their faith into everyday life. The Vere Institute’s legacy lives on through our Vere Library.