“Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something,” so says the philosophical genius, the Dread Pirate Roberts, in The Princess Bride. Many thinkers from all over the world have made such observations about life in this sin-filled world. Philosophers, poets, pirates, and religious leaders; the Buddha is supposed to have said something to the effect of the tears you shed through your existence are greater than the volume of the ocean.
All agree; life is pain. So is Jesus just joining the chorus when he tells you to bear a cross as Christian? Is he just telling you something in your life will hurt all the time? Keep your chin up; endure it; wait for eternity. But for now, it’s suffering and pain because that’s the cross.
Nope. Pain is not the cross of a Christian because everyone experiences pain. Neither is suffering nor persecution. All sorts of people suffer and are persecuted for any number of reasons, but they are not bearing a cross. These things are not crosses; at least, they are not crosses in and of themselves. However all of these, and many other things, can become crosses for a Christian. They become crosses when they cause a person to question God or doubt his goodness and promises to him. They become crosses when they cause a person to seek a rationalization for the pain, “If I could only know why…” rather than trust that his or her gracious Savior will bring good and relief in his own time. They become crosses when they make us think God is not really acting the way God should, at least not acting that way for me, because maybe I am not as dear to him as he promised, or at least seemed to promise.
That’s the cross of the Christian, and each Christian bears it. Sometimes the yoke is lighter, almost unnoticed. At other times, the burden of it is so great it crushes the breath from your lungs. If you want to see an example of what the cross looks like in real life, look at Jeremiah. He knew pain. People called him names (Jer. 43:2) and called for his death (Jer. 26:11) He was beaten and put in stocks (Jer. 20:2) He was thrown into a muddy pit and left for dead (Jer. 38:6) He knew pain, and the worst of it was that the people would not listen to the message he proclaimed to them from the Lord.
When pain becomes a cross, it reminds you, “You’re not in heaven yet! You still need the Lord, who is there with his help, with his salvation.”
Here in chapter 15, you see the cross in action. Jeremiah cries out to the Lord. “O LORD, you know. You know all I have been through!” He complains, laments, even accuses the Lord. He vents his frustration and wonders why the Lord has allowed it all to happen this way when Jeremiah was doing his best to serve him. The burden of the cross is painful, and the Lord responds.
But notice the response! It’s not “Life stinks; woe is you!” It’s not “Grin and bear it!” It’s not “Quit your whining, it’s the cross; I told it would be like this.” The response from the Lord, the God who always keeps his promises, this Lord says: “I’m working on you here, Jeremiah, and I am going to work some more.” The Lord assures Jeremiah he has not forgotten him. He is there and will rescue him. More than that, he will equip him in the midst of the pain to carry out his calling as prophet.
Through the pain, under the cross, the Lord is working on you too. When pain becomes a cross, it reminds you, “You’re not in heaven yet! You still need the Lord, who is there with his help, with his salvation.” The Lord is working on you.
Through the pain, under the cross, the Lord draws you closer to him. He promises deliverance and relief in his own time in his own way. The guarantee of keeping his promises is the promise of salvation completed already in Christ. The Lord is working on you.
Through the pain, under the cross, the Lord continues to equip you. Look to him; find what you need! Find strength; find courage; find the assurance he will continue to bless you. The Lord is working on you. Through the pain, under the cross, there is still joy in your life because you live it in Christ. Trust he will continue to work for your good, for your blessing, for your salvation!