It can be tough for me to trust politicians, especially when they try to relate to normal, everyday folks like myself.
Back in the 2012 election, when Mitt Romney was campaigning against Barack Obama, one of the knocks on him was that he was fabulously rich. Could a fabulously rich guy really relate to the struggles of a middle-class family in Alabama or a low-income family in Detroit? Could a dude who jetted around in a private jet relate to folks who have to take public transportation?
When Bill Clinton told an AIDS activist, “I feel your pain,” it was hard to take him seriously. Could Bill Clinton really relate to the pain of those afflicted by AIDS?
Simply put, it’s hard to trust a person who hasn’t experienced hardship. Hardship and suffering teach us lessons that can’t be learned any other way. Although it sounds terribly cliche, there really is such a thing as the school of hard knocks.
The reason so many people loved Ulysses S. Grant was because he was a soldier who knew first hand the trials and terrors of war. One of the reasons people loved Abraham Lincoln was that he was a man of the people. He came from a poor, backwoods family, and he understood suffering and deprivation.
A person who has suffered understands the unique challenges and trials and pain that accompany suffering. We can trust the leadership and guidance of a person who has suffered.
I think of my own struggles with depression and anxiety. Those who haven’t struggled in the same way have a difficult time relating to me, and oftentimes the advice they give isn’t particularly helpful. I don’t say that as a knock against them. It’s just the nature of life.
We understand suffering after we’ve experienced it.
These realities make Hebrews 2:18 a precious verse. Speaking of Jesus, it says:
For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Our God is not an isolated, insular, always comfortable God. He is not a distant, uncaring, unfeeling deity. He does not look upon his subjects from afar, unable to relate to the nitty gritty details of their lives.
Our God suffered.
Ponder that statement again. Our…God…suffered.
Jesus experienced the ecstasy and agony of living in a broken, fallen, shattered world. He did not experience a muted, padded version of life, like a prince who is sheltered from all struggle and suffering.
Jesus suffered in ways we can’t even imagine.
He was rejected and mocked. He was called an illegitimate bastard. His own brothers made jokes about him. He experienced the sickness and suffering and sadness which permeate all of life. He had friends die.
He worked until he was so exhausted that he fell asleep in the back of a boat. He experienced the full fury of Satan’s temptations.
Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He did not have a comfortable, easy, pain-free life.
Because Jesus suffered and was tempted, he is perfectly equipped to help me when I am suffering or being tempted. Jesus knows what suffering feels like, he knows exactly what I need in order to honor God in the midst of my suffering, and he has all the power necessary to sustain me in the midst of my suffering.
Pain and trials are no abstract thing for Jesus, like something out of a philosophy textbook. When Jesus sees me suffering, he can connect it to his own experiences of suffering.
In my grief Jesus can supply me with grace. In my pain Jesus can supply me with perseverance. Jesus is the wonderful physician who has experienced sickness himself. He is the wonderful healer who knows first hand what pain feels like.
Charles Spurgeon puts it this way:
The mercy for us is, that our great High Priest is willing to receive the sinful and the suffering, the tried and the tempted; he delights in those that are as bruised reeds and smoking flax; for thus he is able to display the sacred qualifications [of sympathetic high priest]. He “can have compassion.” It is his nature to sympathize with the aching heart; but he cannot be compassionate to those who have no suffering, and no need.
Are you suffering today? Run to Jesus, your sympathetic high priest. Unlike politicians, he really does feel your pain and he really can give you exactly what you need.