You may be struggling right now.
In this very difficult time of rising death tolls, though we hope for better days, many people have become despondent.
This becomes alarmingly clear when we look at the mental health statistics:
- Self-harm is up 99%.
- Overdoses have risen 119%.
- Anxiety has increased 94%.
- Depression is up 84%.
Perhaps you find yourself depressed right now. Perhaps you were raised in a home that fell apart, or in an abusive home, or in an alcoholic home. Perhaps you’ve lost someone very close to you. Perhaps you or someone you love is ill. Perhaps some tragedy has befallen you and it makes no sense to you—and you’re angry at God.
Most of us can accept the idea of suffering when it happens as a consequence of bad behavior. When bad things happen to bad people, it seems understandable, even deserved.
It’s not suffering that troubles us—it’s undeserved suffering.
The question of why God allows suffering is not a new one. It was a question that was asked in Jesus’ time. In fact, it was a question Jesus himself asked as He hung on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
As humans, we have a tendency to blame God for the evil and suffering in the world. But we often forget the comforting fact that God, in the person of Jesus, suffered. The God of the universe empathizes with our hurt.
Even more comforting, all those who choose to follow Jesus can have hope because He overcame evil, suffering and death.
That’s what Good Friday—and Easter—are all about.
Hours before His arrest and unjust execution, Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). He knew the agony that awaited him. He was sweating blood as He prayed.
Roman scourging was so brutal that many did not survive it. A whip with multiple strands embedded with metal and glass tore into flesh, exposing vital organs and causing horrific blood loss. Jesus was whipped 39 times—and then had to carry His cross to Golgotha, where He was crucified.
Yet the author of Hebrews writes, “For the joy set before him he [Jesus] endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2b).
Being beaten nearly to death and nailed to beams of wood was not joy. It was torture.
So why did the author of Hebrews write, “For the joy…”?
I think the answer is in a parable Jesus told, a parable the author of Hebrews was probably familiar with.
Jesus once shared the story of a shepherd with 100 sheep. One sheep strayed from the flock, so the shepherd left the 99 others and went searching for that stray sheep until he found it. The shepherd returned carrying the sheep on his shoulders, rejoicing, calling others to share in his joy.
Jesus then said, “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:7).
I believe that was the joy: knowing what the cross would accomplish.
And that joy allowed Him to endure horrendous suffering.
We may never fully understand why God allows evil and suffering. But we can take comfort in the reality that Jesus suffered for us and suffers with us.
We can find joy in all that the cross continues to accomplish. Jesus died on that cross and rose from the dead so that we can have hope in this life and the life to come by putting our trust in God.
Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, and whosever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
Wherever you are in your journey through life, I invite you to join our Easter Sunday services, whether in person or online. Together, we will reflect on Jesus’ sacrifice and His triumph over the grave, which allow us to say, as the psalmist did, “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).
Greg Laurie is the pastor and founder of the Harvest churches in California and Hawaii and of Harvest Crusades. He is an evangelist, bestselling author and movie producer. His new book, “Billy Graham: The Man I Knew” (Salem Books), releases April 14.