The Great Sympathizer of Our Suffering

Several years ago I worked as an administrator in an alternative high school. This was a job I had spent years dreaming about, furthering my education to obtain what I thought would be the job I always wanted. What I found was that this job crushed me. It seemed like an utter disaster and a waste of a year of my life. From the very first day on the job I had my life threatened, my iPod stolen, a parent cuss me out, and a severe migraine. It only got worse from there.

I would drive to work in a flood of tears, crying out to God, “Why did you allow me to take this job? Lord, I am in despair! I hate this! Are you listening? Do you care? This isn’t what I signed up for!” Some days I would sit in my car in the parking lot unable to walk through the front door of the school. I was completely paralyzed. I was so overcome with fear and despair that I literally couldn’t move. In those sickening times I truly questioned: “God, are you there?”

To be honest, it was one of the darkest times of my life. I lost over twenty pounds. I fell into a deep depression. I felt like I couldn’t lead my wife well. I felt distant from my kids. I was trying to lead a Missional Community and help lead a church. I felt like a complete failure. I felt like God didn’t love me very much because the darkness seemed to prevail over me. Not only was my health deteriorating, but my spiritual health was being attacked from all sides. Was it Satanic? Possibly. Was my own sin involved? Certainly. Was God in it all, even when I couldn’t see it? Definitely.

What kept me going? What sustained me in those times when I felt like throwing in the towel and quitting it all? In my depression and anguish, what was it that enraptured my soul and spoke to my heart when all seemed hopeless? It was God’s promises.

During this year, my wife would write a bible verse on an index card almost every week and would place the verse in my lunch bag or in my car. Many of the verses spoke of God’s love for me and his promises to see me through suffering. Sometimes the verses spoke of how I fail to trust God, but also reminded me that his faithfulness would always prevail. Most often, the verses pointed me to the truth that God is exalted in all things; through trials, temptations, and tribulations in this life. One verse told me that Jesus suffered more than I could imagine so that I could have eternal life:

“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him…” -Hebrews 5:7-9

Jesus “learned obedience through what he suffered.” Have you considered this truth before? Until this trial in my life, I really hadn’t. What’s important to note is that Jesus, in his incarnate state, had to learn lessons of obedience that could only be achieved through suffering. He certainly wasn’t disobedient prior to this! As God, he needed to learn nothing. Jesus did not need to learn how to obey because it would be impossible for God to be disobedient. Rather, as the God-Man in human flesh, he had to learn what was involved in obedience. In this way, he identified with us.

Jesus was “made perfect.” This doesn’t mean that Jesus was imperfect before his sufferings. The idea was that Jesus was made to go through the crucible of suffering so that he could perfectly identify with the human race, and demonstrate his complete human, temporal obedience to his heavenly Father.

By being made perfect, Jesus brought God’s redemptive purposes to their fulfillment. This enabled him to become our perfectly equipped high priest, who not only became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, but also the great Sympathizer of his people:

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” -Hebrews 4:14-16

In my time of suffering and pain, I had to go to the throne of grace. I needed God’s mercy and grace more than ever. I needed his word. I needed his promises. I needed to remember the hope that I had in the perfect Jesus who knew everything I was going through and who could sympathize with my every emotion.

I still carry those index cards around with me. They may be in my car or in my pocket. Most of them I’ve memorized. They are a constant reminder that during my darkest hours, God has never left me. What seemed like a waste of a year of my life ended up being the greatest time of dependence on Christ Jesus. In my fear, I learned faith. Through my suffering, I learned how to trust in him. I learned to repent of my sin and fall face first before the throne of grace. I began to learn what Paul meant when he wrote:

“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” -Romans 8:15-17

I’m still learning how to walk in obedience through my sufferings. Some days it’s a tiring walk. But my Abba—my Father—promises that in my suffering he is making me more like Jesus in order that I may be glorified with him. This is a profound and difficult mystery, but a glorious truth.