Suffering is real, but God's power is greater

Posted Jan 24, 2018

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Daily Scripture

Romans 8:18-28

18 I believe that the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us. 19 The whole creation waits breathless with anticipation for the revelation of God’s sons and daughters. 20 Creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice—it was the choice of the one who subjected it—but in the hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from slavery to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of God’s children. 22 We know that the whole creation is groaning together and suffering labor pains up until now. 23 And it’s not only the creation. We ourselves who have the Spirit as the first crop of the harvest also groan inside as we wait to be adopted and for our bodies to be set free. 24 We were saved in hope. If we see what we hope for, that isn’t hope. Who hopes for what they already see? 25 But if we hope for what we don’t see, we wait for it with patience.

26 In the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans. 27 The one who searches hearts knows how the Spirit thinks, because he pleads for the saints, consistent with God’s will. 28 We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Reflection Questions

The Buddha focused his teaching on finding ways to avoid and end suffering. Christians have a different view. Suffering, for example, was almost constant in Paul’s life as an apostle (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:23-29). But he related to his suffering in ways that gave him strength and hope. He knew he was not alone or unique in suffering. (Creation suffers, and even the Holy Spirit groans with us—verses 22, 26.) What’s more, he said, God can bend even our suffering to serve good purposes.

  • “Paul is not expressing a… superficial optimism that everything tends to everybody’s good in the end.”* Verse 28 does not say (as some surface readers seem to think) that all things are good. Paul knew better than that, but he was confident that God works for our good in all things. When in your life has God’s power brought something good out of what was clearly a bad thing?
  • There is mystery and comfort in verse 26: “We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans” When have you faced so much pain that you felt “speechless” before God? How does it touch your heart to read that, at those very hardest times, God’s Spirit intercedes on your behalf?

Prayer

Lord, teach me this week how to trust your love when so much bad stuff can happen in my life, in my world. Help me, even when I can’t fully know the “why” of suffering, to know the “who” —you!—who is with me and gives me hope. Amen.

* John Stott, The Message of Romans. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994, p. 248.)

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Dr. Amy Oden

Dr. Amy Oden

Dr. Amy Oden is Professor of Early Church History and Spirituality, teaching at several seminaries. Teaching is her calling, and she looks forward to every day with students. Her latest book (Right Here, Right Now: The Practice of Christian Mindfulness, Abingdon Press, 2017) traces ancient mindfulness practice for Christians today.

When I lost my daughter at birth, I was grief-stricken. I was lost, thick-tongued and heavy-hearted. This incredible loss was beyond pleadings, beyond anything I could have imagined, beyond prayer. Words did not come, only ache and tears.  

And somehow, the ache and the tears, the groans too deep for words, were indeed the Spirit interceding and praying on my behalf. The more I embraced my grief, the more I knew that the Holy One who made me, who loves me and holds my life, was grieving with me. I had a physical awareness in my body of God pulsing with me in each wave of grief.

I am grateful that our God chooses to be with us in our suffering, vulnerable to the heartache of humanity. In Jesus, God shows us the depth of love that will suffer with us. We do not have a distant God who escapes suffering or who stands back and watches as we suffer. Our God makes the opposite move, leaning in toward suffering of the whole world and holding it all in divine love. Alleluia. Amen.

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