I have some good news for you: There’s going to be bad news.
Christ’s incarnation was punctuated by bad news. His arrival saw the slaughter of a generation at the hands of a tyrant. His ministry climaxed with his torture and execution. Even after the victory of the Resurrection and birth of the church at Pentecost, his Spirit-filled followers were persecuted and exiled, “scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Pet. 1:1). Eventually the church took the gospel global, only to suffer pain and division over petty theological disagreements and cults of personality. I imagine this is not the messianic story Israel had expected, nor was it the dream of the early church.
We live in a culture obsessed with eradicating pain—inventing and selling technologies to insulate against it, pills to dull it, or self-help techniques to avoid it. It’s unpopular to say “Life is hard; expect to suffer,” but it’s true.
Jesus says directly that “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33), and though we have heard this, many of us have found ourselves shocked, angry, and unprepared when we actually do experience deep suffering. As the dust settles, we realize our reactions to life’s troubles don’t match the theological truths we affirm.
I’ve been jarred by this dissonance more than a few times. Jesus’ teaching that we can expect a life filled with bad news—and expect him to lead us through it—is actually very good news.
Knowing that suffering is coming inoculates us from a shallow spirituality that believes pain can be avoided or attributes difficulties to unfaithfulness. It is no exception or failing when we suffer—it’s a baked-in fact of life. If we believe that our efforts or positive thinking will protect us from pain, we are set up for existential shock when it comes. Christ is forthright about this reality and invites us to accept both the inevitability of trouble and the assurance that he has overcome it. This reality is actually quite liberating.
Christ overcame the world’s suffering and temptations in the same way that he overcame death: not by removing it but by traveling through it faithfully, allowing it to become the very vehicle by which he offers salvation to the whole cosmos. In John 16, Jesus invites us to do the same by living from the peace of his Spirit rather than the anxiety of our circumstance, seeing the trouble of the world as an aberration held in Christ’s hands, an expected reality we are empowered to walk through.
Suffering will come, and sometimes it will be the sort you can’t spiritualize and probably think you can’t face. When it happens, don’t be surprised, and don’t think it’s on you to make it into a miracle. Remember that it is Christ who overcomes—trust him, lean in, and allow him to do the work of saving you and the world through it. This is the earthy reality of the Advent story. Hallelujah!
Strahan is a writer, musician and spiritual director from Aotearoa, New Zealand. He has authored three devotional prayer books including the recently released Beholding.
This article is part of The Eternal King Arrives, a 4-week devotional to help individuals, small groups, and families journey through the 2023 Advent season . Learn more about this special issue that can be used Advent, or any time of year at http://orderct.com/advent.
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