To Make Us More Like Jesus

The unspeakable suffering experienced by grieving parents will be used by God to make us more like Jesus. Outside of the fact that God is involved in suffering to accomplish his purposes, there is absolutely no redeeming value to suffering. In athletic circles, a coach might tell his players during conditioning drills that, “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.” But what works in athletics is certainly not true in the death of a child. There is no way that a mother or father would be strong and wise enough to use the grief of a child’s death to become a better person on their own. In other words, there is no Biblical basis to believe in suffering for suffering’s sake. If it were up to us, we would have no ability to turn our suffering for good.

But because God is involved in our sufferings, our sufferings can be redeemed. Through suffering, God develops in us Christ-like character attributes, and we learn that the “greatest good of the Christian life is not absence of pain but Christ-likeness.” Joni Eareckson Tada and Steven Estes, When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), 234. This Christ-likeness is important not only because our souls are eternal, but also because he need this Christ-likeness to get through our grief.

Paul wrote the epistles to young Christians who were enduring significant hardships. “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed, perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” 2 Corinthians 4:8-10. As grieving parents, we know what it is like to be “hard pressed,” “perplexed” and even “struck down.” Our family and friends can see how we suffer, emotionally and physically, from our own grief. Even now, several years later, I “carry around” my grief in the sense that I cannot physically possess my son. As opposed to other parents I observe who seem to have their young children attached at the hip, we “carry around” our grief in the sense that we don’t have our children with us.

To the extent that we rely upon Jesus in our suffering, we develop a hope for the future, and in the process reveal Jesus “in our body” by demonstrating for any other observers where our help ultimately comes from. In the book of Romans, we are promised that suffering “produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-4. Family and friends know how difficult our sufferings have been, and therefore could testify as to miraculous it is (or would be) if we choose to live in hope for the future. Holding on to hope is good for us now in the midst of our grief. But in addition to being good for us, it glorifies God, as those who observe a renewed hope rising out our lives have nowhere to attribute this miracle than to God.

By relying upon Jesus in the midst of our suffering, we develop a hope in God that glorifies Him and is good for us. Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5-6. We are called to hope in God, even now, that we might develop the type of endurance necessary to hope in God until we see our children again.

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