Tag Archives: suffering

Hope in Suffering

Everyone from the angelic-voiced Mahalia Jackson to the great Louis Armstrong sang the traditional African-American spiritual entitled, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.” The lyrics are worth noting:

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Nobody knows my sorrow
Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Glory Hallelujah

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Nobody knows but Jesus
Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Glory Hallelujah

This great song poignantly expresses the loneliness and heart-rending nature of suffering. Have you ever tried to tell your story of personal pain to another individual, especially someone who is not very close to you? Have ever you felt like your story sounds hollow and trite as soon as you begin to recount it to someone else, even though the experience was deeply agonizing for you? If you have, then you know the feeling of emptiness when you realize the other person simply cannot appreciate your pain.

In moments like these, when the gap in understanding is so deep and wide, we might just decide to give up explaining and suffer in silence to avoid trying to give good reasons for why we are hurting. Nobody likes having their suffering minimized by someone else’s inability to empathize and feel their pain. We should never be put in the position where we need to justify why life hurts.

The moving lyrics of this old spiritual and its haunting melody breathes authenticity into its testimony of pain. We know it grew out of the bitterness of slavery and a desire to rise above that hateful circumstance and turn our hearts to God who alone understands life’s trials. It is sad but realistic as it seems the only time our hearts reach out to heaven is when life’s solutions are elusive or shrouded in darkness, and we have come to the end of our proverbial rope.

Everyone suffers, but the history of the Jewish people is best understood only through the lens of national suffering. The saying, “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!”—always mentioned with a wry smile—is tender, touching, and true. So much of Jewish life tells the story of survival, celebration, and remembrance. “Never Again”—declared in remembrance of the Holocaust—is a mantra that befits the Jewish experience and helps us seize the future with defiance and hope.

Our Jewish people have been enslaved, persecuted, oppressed, and virtually destroyed during the Holocaust. The prayers, poems, and songs of our people encourage us to turn toward God who is above and beyond all and gives meaning to the pain and suffering that would otherwise be meaningless.

The Shehechiyanu prayer expresses our corporate gratitude and acceptance of the destiny God allows. Along with heartfelt mourning, our tradition reminds us to be thankful that we are still alive! This sentiment is captured in one of our most familiar prayers when we recite,

Baruch Atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech Ha’olam, shehechiyanu, v’kiy’manu, v’higianu lazman hazeh.

Blessed are You, O Lord our God, who has given us life, sustained us, and allowed us to arrive in this moment.

This traditional Jewish response to good times and bad, to suffering and celebration, is prayed at almost every Jewish holiday. Recognizing God’s hand of protection upon the Jewish people as we have lived to enter another year’s holiday season, it speaks of the faithfulness of God. He is the rock in the midst of our suffering.

The Mourner’s Kaddish, another well-known prayer, is prayed at perhaps our greatest times of suffering as we come face to face with the death of a loved one.

There is nothing like death to make us appreciate life.

The Mourner’s Kaddish is a magnificent, eloquent, and hopeful prayer that is mistakenly understood as a prayer for the dead. The opposite is true. It is a prayer of praise to God for life itself. The Kaddish is life-affirming, and it is at the heart of the Jewish response to suffering and death. The Kaddish lifts our hearts as the words we say glorify God and extol the virtues of His divine perfections. The prayer gives voice to our suffering by reaffirming our acceptance of His plan for us personally and as a people. This acknowledgment enables us to be thankful to God in the face of great loss and the worst of human pain.

The ability to recite the prayer in a heartfelt and sincere way is in itself a victory over the potential emptiness of suffering that can consume us. Although the Mourner’s Kaddish is only recited once at the end of synagogue services, versions of the Kaddish are repeated throughout. At the heart of every variation of the prayer is the following statement about the character of God:

Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled, honored, elevated, and lauded be the Name of the Holy One, Blessed is He—above and beyond any blessings and hymns, praises, and consolations which are uttered in the world; and say Amen.

When we pray these words together as a family and community, it becomes easier to accept the isolation and desolation of suffering.

I believe this Jewish approach to hope is found in the Bible—in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. The well-worn words of Job, the master of theodicy, enable us to walk into the “whirlwind” of distress with faith and hope in the character of a good and gracious God. Job, in a perfect illustration of submission to God’s will, said, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15).

We might understand suffering today in deeper and more profound ways than ever before. COVID-19 has shattered many of our lives in so many ways. Some of us have unfortunately lost loved ones. We have also recently witnessed terrible floods, earthquakes, fires, and wars we thought we would never have to fight again.

Yet, we can have hope in the midst of suffering!

Bitterness, hopelessness, and anger are self-destructive options , but there is a whole range of life-affirming choices we can make as well. We might never quite understand the why of our pain, but we can still find peace in suffering when we entrust our souls to the God who made us.

The story of Jesus as told in the four Gospels is worth reading as you will see how the God of the universe chose to suffer on our behalf and repair the damage brought about by sin. In fact, He clothed Himself with humanity and endured pain and loss and injustice, just like we experience. He did even more for us. He died for our sins and rose from the grave to pave a new way into the presence of God. His suffering is the ultimate solace for our suffering! Once healed, this new and personal relationship with God through Yeshua the Messiah will become your greatest source of joy and give meaning to your suffering.

As the venerable rabbi and apostle Paul wrote so many years ago,

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:3–5)

Like most of us, you are probably suffering in one way or another today. How can you avoid it? You do not have to be a weak person to suffer—we all have our limits. Loss and disappointment are a part of life, and we desperately need to find ways to cope. I and so many others affirm that knowing God intimately and personally, through Jesus the Messiah, is not only true—it will transform you!

I was searching and quietly suffering when I read the following for the very first time. Growing up in a Jewish home, we did not read the New Testament, of course! Jesus said,

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

These words were so comforting, although at first, I did not even know who said them! I hope and pray you will discover what the Messiah promised to be true for you as well.

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