The saying “misery loves company” has been around for centuries. That phrase is often used in a negative context but there is some truth in it that isn’t negative. It could also could be said that “misery needs company” or that suffering needs fellow sufferers. Something happened yesterday that reminded me of that fact.
I had an interesting discussion with a middle-school-aged girl. She asked me what happened to my arm. That’s not an unusual question for me to get. I lost my arm when I was four in a lawnmower accident. At the age of 36, I’ve been asked every imaginable question about it for years.
People want to know if I lost it in the military, was attacked by a shark (been asked that several times), if I remember the accident, the specifics of how it happened or what life’s been like since the mishap. Some are curious but worry that it may be too sensitive of a subject to ask me about. Others crack jokes about people with no arms or legs to lighten the mood. It’s second nature for me to answer these kinds of questions or to chuckle at a joke.
I have to admit that yesterday’s conversation surprised me, though. After I told the girl about what happened, she enthusiastically said, “That’s cool.” For once, I didn’t know how to reply. In 32 years of talking about my accident, I’ve gotten a lot of responses from people. “Cool” was never one of them.
When I was interning in Papua New Guinea, a man loudly cursed in church as a reaction to feeling bad for me as I told my story. Several years ago, an elderly woman in Walmart started to cry after I told her what happened. Most of the time, it’s just a typical conversation and then life goes on the same as usual.
The “cool” thing threw me off, though. “I can’t say that I think it’s cool,” I thought. I mean, what’s cool about trying to change a dirty diaper on your son with one arm when he’s trying to run the 100-yard dash? What’s cool about having to buy two gloves when you only need one? What’s cool about being disfigured for the rest of your life?
But after pausing, the girl continued. She said that her brother lost his leg because of cancer when he was in his teens. Things quickly made a lot more sense. “Cool” didn’t mean, “that’s a great thing that happened to you.” Nor did it mean, “That’s trendy. I wish I had one arm too!”
It meant something to her that someone else had walked a path of suffering that she was familiar with. She had, no doubt, suffered along with her brother. She felt his pain and witnessed his struggle to walk. She also saw her brother deal with grief and eventually better adjust.
The personal suffering of losing my arm is unique compared to many people. One thing that isn’t unique, though, is tragedy. We all have our battle scars and hurts. Pain and adversity in our lives can often make us feel like we’re the only ones going through a problem like ours.
We can all relate to the sting of someone who tried to help us but didn’t have a clue of the depth of pain that we were going through. Sadly, situations like that only increase our suffering. What good is there in being offered some cough syrup when you’re bleeding to death?
There’s something uncommonly comforting when you find someone who has experienced the same hurt that you have, though. An ugly divorce, miscarriage, job loss, cancer, poverty and every other struggle becomes a little more bearable in that case. That’s why God gave us people to share in our suffering.
Beyond Human Comfort
But even comfort from others who’ve gone through similar problems can only help to a certain point. First, everyone’s difficulty is uniquely painful even among those who have gone through similar experiences. For example, my experience is very different than Bethany Hamilton’s (Soul Surfer) arm loss due to a shark attack. This makes the help that each of us can offer limited though no less valuable.
Second, we are not magicians. We can’t wave our magic wand over the suffering of our friends and family and make everything that’s bad just go away. Not even God does that, though He will at the right time.
That’s why He gave us Jesus. God knew that we needed someone to identify with our hurt on a deeper level yet. We can share the deepest hurts of our hearts with Jesus that we may not share with anyone else or that if we did, they wouldn’t fully understand.
Jesus lived among us and dealt with a life that often is anything but perfect. Jesus’ own family misunderstood Him. Jesus saw people die that He loved and He grieved for them. Many religious people hated his guts and eventually murdered him.
Ever feel the hurt of being accused of something that you didn’t do? For us, this kind of pain lasted a short moment. For Jesus, this was a perpetual reality for all of his earthly life.
Jesus hurt along with a world ravaged by sin though no sin was in Him. Because of this, Jesus can uniquely enter into our suffering with us.
Jesus walked a path of unparalleled suffering so that we wouldn’t have to. He took the punishment of sin on himself at the cross that we deserved. He died in the place of everyone who will trust in Him for their salvation and turn over their lives to Him.
In the end, God will have to judge sin. If He didn’t, He wouldn’t be good. But this God, who is so much kinder than we’ll ever understand, provided a way out of the greatest suffering mankind could ever experience.
That suffering is the just sentence of sinful humanity by a God who is perfectly good. Jesus took this worst form of suffering on himself at the cross. He didn’t do it because He had to but because He loves us. Jesus became our sin substitute so that we won’t have to ever experience something so terrible and so that we can live with him forever in paradise.
And what is the purest form of paradise? It is much more than gold, palm trees and a tropical climate. It is to know that You are forever and unconditionally loved by the one you were made to be with forever.