Into The Furnace and Out Like Gold


Book Review By David P. Craig

As someone who has experienced a tremendous amount of loss, grief, pain, and suffering I was excited for Tim’s book on suffering to arrive. Tim Keller has also suffered much, and thus speaks with credibility as a fellow sufferer in the journey of life where there are many hills and valleys along the way.

Keller divides the book into three parts based on the biblical metaphor where suffering is described as a “fiery furnace.” Fire is an image used throughout the Bible as an image describing the torment and pain of suffering. The Bible speaks frequently of troubles and trials as “walking through the fire,” a “fiery ordeal”, and a “fiery furnace.”

Therefore, Keller builds his themes around this image. In Part One Keller considers the furnace from the outside of us. He tackles “the phenomenon of human suffering, as well as the various ways that different cultures, religions, and eras in history have sought to help people face and get through it [suffering].”

In part two Keller moves away from the theoretical realm and begins to hone in on the personal and character issues that are developed when we suffer. He seeks to demonstrate that the common ways we handle suffering via avoidance, denial, and despair are essentially to waste our suffering. On the other hand, the Bible presents a balanced view in how to handle suffering in a step by step fashion. Biblical truth is always balanced and faces hardships head-on because these are the fires that God uses in our lives to mold our character and make us more like Christ.

Part three is the most practical part of the book. Suffering is actually designed by God to “refine us, not destroy us.” Keller explains in this final section how we can can properly orient ourselves toward God in the midst of our suffering so that we walk as Jesus walked in His great suffering.

The best time to read a book on suffering is before you are in the midst of the furnace. Keller recommends that you read sections two and three if you are already in the midst of great suffering. However, the best time to prepare for suffering is before it occurs. Therefore, it would be wise to read this book in the calm before the storm. Christians need to be prepared and develop a theological foundation of suffering before we enter the hot furnaces of life.

Americans seem to suffer more due to the fact that they are even suffering – than because of the suffering in and of itself. Keller wisely shows that suffering is a normal part of living in a fallen world. Life is full of various kinds of sufferings and we will always find ourselves coming into, or coming out of the fires of the furnace. God’s promise is that when you “pass through the waters…when you walk through the fire…I will be with you.” Jesus faced the ultimate suffering and furnace [the cross] and came through unscathed on our behalf. He was victorious over all the fires that we faced so that we too can be victorious as we face the fires that will come in Him, and with Him by our side.

I highly recommend this book as a wonderful resource that takes seriously the problems and complexities of suffering without watering them down. It is a resource that takes a multidimensional approach to suffering – tackling the internal and external realities – and takes us deep theologically and practically. It is good spiritual food for the mind and soul. Keller also weaves many personal stories of men and women along the way in this journey of suffering that will help you connect to the truths that he is communicating – not just for information, but for transformation.

I believe that God will use this book to powerfully help Christians realize that God has a plan and purpose to bring good out of all of our suffering. Out of each furnace that we enter – though difficult and painful – we will be refined by the fire and come out like gold. We will come out shining like the Son if we learn to trust and depend on His grace before, during, and in the aftermath of our trials. As Keller writes, “In Jesus Christ we see that God actually experiences the pain of the fire as we do. He is truly God with us, in love and understanding, in our anguish. He plunged himself into our furnace so that, when we find ourselves in the fire, we can turn to him and know we will not be consumed but will be made into people great and beautiful.”

Warren Wiersbe on the Question: How Can We Trust God When Going Through the Furnace of Pain?

“Through The Furnace of Pain”

Nearly two hundred years ago, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to his friend Mrs. Cosway, and in it he said, “The art of life is the avoiding of pain.” Thomas Jefferson was a great man and a brilliant thinker, but I disagree. When we first hear that statement, it appears to be true. None of us deliberately looks for pain as we go about our daily activities. When it comes time for our six-month’s dental checkup or our annual visit to the doctor, we really wish we didn’t have to go. After all, the dentist might have to fill a cavity, or the doctor might order an operation or a diet! Generally speaking, all of us do our best to avoid pain.

But when you take a deeper look at the statement, you see that it fails to live up to the facts of history. Thomas Jefferson himself paid a price to help bring the American independence! Many of the patriots of that day lost their names, their homes, their fortunes, and some their lives, in order to win liberty. Our liberty was purchased by pain and death; and our liberty has been protected by pain and death. History itself shows us that human progress can only be made when somebody suffers for that which is true and right.

Even apart from history, our own personal experience teaches us the folly of this statement. The deepest pains are not physical; they are emotional and spiritual. All of us have suffered pain during our pilgrimage of life. We could have avoided the pain, but we have learned that the most important things in life usually involve suffering. If people lived to avoid pain, they would never want to grow up. But just think of what they would miss!

Take the matter of human birth. To be sure, we have modern scientific methods to protect mothers, but there is still a certain amount of pain. Jesus Himself used this as an illustration of His own suffering when He said, “A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world” (John 16:2 1).

Think, too, of the pain and sorrow that the mother and father experience as they seek to raise that child. The old proverb says, “When they are little, children step on your feet; but when they are older, they step on your heart.” Often this is true. In my ministry I have met dedicated Christian parents whose hearts have been broken because of wayward children who failed to heed their instruction and example. If everybody really lived to avoid pain, nobody would get married and raise a family; yet people do it all the time.

We must never think that pain is something sinful. Some suffering comes because of disobedience; but not all pain is the result of sin. If Adam in the Garden of Eden had tripped over a rock, he would have felt it. To be sure, the pain of sickness and physical decline is ultimately caused by sin; but even the pain of sickness can have a good result. If you and I never felt pain when something was wrong in our bodies, we would die from neglect. A pain somewhere in the body is a danger signal, and we ought to be thankful for it. But for the Christian believer, pain has much higher ministries. I often hear people say that Christians suffer more than other people do, but I’m not so sure this can be proved. As I visit hospitals and nursing homes, I meet many unsaved people who are suffering. In fact, I believe that the dedicated Christian probably avoids a lot of the physical suffering that comes to a person who defiles and destroys his body through sin and selfishness.

What are the higher ministries of pain? Well, for one thing, pain can have a purifying power. The apostle Peter writes in 1 Peter 4:1, “For he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin.” One of the modern translations puts it, “You must realize then that to be dead to sin inevitably means pain.” I once went through intense physical suffering, and it very definitely had a purifying effect on my heart and mind. It made me see spiritual things a lot more clearly. My priorities were rearranged. Granted, pain by itself can never accomplish this; but when we yield to Christ and ask for His help, pain can purify us.

A secondary ministry of pain is that of fellowship with Christ. In Philippians 3:10 Paul writes about “the fellowship of his [Christ’s] sufferings.” Some people turn against God when they go through suffering, but this need not be so. You and I can be drawn closer to God by faith when we are going through the furnace of pain. None of us has ever experienced all that Jesus experienced on the cross. The unsaved person has no idea of the wonderful joy and peace the believer experiences in his heart even in the midst of constant pain.

A third ministry of pain is bringing glory to God. This doesn’t mean that God deliberately makes us suffer just so He can receive glory. But it does mean that God can use our suffering to glorify His name. When Jesus faced the hour of His death, He said, “Father, glorify thy name.” And God was glorified in the suffering and death of His Son, and God honored Christ and raised Him from the dead in great glory. I have visited Christians in hospitals and homes whose lives were glorifying God even in their suffering.

Pain purifies. Pain draws the Christian closer to Christ. Pain glorifies God. But we must also remember that pain today means glory and honor tomorrow. Paul wrote, “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). God doesn’t always settle His accounts in this life. In fact, no Christian should expect to receive much reward in this world. Jesus said, “In the world you shall have tribulation.” A man said to me one day, “I don’t believe in hell or heaven. You have your hell or heaven here on earth.” That man was wrong. The unsaved person had better enjoy this world all he can, because it’s the only heaven he will ever see! “It is appointed unto men once to die but after this the judgment.”

But the Christian is looking forward to the glory of heaven. Jim Elliot, one of the martyred missionaries of Ecuador, wrote in his journal: “He is no fool to give what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” If we suffer with Christ today, it only means glory with Christ tomorrow. For the Christian, the best is yet to come.

Have you surrendered your pain to Christ and asked Him to use it for your good and His glory? I suggest that you do so by faith. God doesn’t promise to remove our pain, or even to relieve our pain; but He does promise to transform it and use it for His eternal purposes.

The great apostle Paul was in pain. He had a thorn in the flesh, given to him by God to help keep him humble and useful. Paul did what any Christian would have done-he prayed for the pain to be removed. God did not answer his prayer, but He did meet his need. He gave Paul all the grace he needed to transform that weakness into strength, that suffering into glory. And God will give grace to you and me if only we will yield our all to Him.

About the Author:

Warren W. Wiersbe is the Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary, and is the author of more than 100 books. Billy Graham calls him “one of the greatest Bible expositors of our generation.” Interestingly, Warren’s earliest works had nothing to do with scriptural interpretation. His interest was in magic, and his first published title was Action with Cards (1944).

“It was sort of imbecilic for a fifteen-year-old amateur magician to have the audacity to write a book and send it to one of the nation’s leading magic houses,” Warren says. But having a total of three books published by the L.L. Ireland Magic Company—before the age of 20—gave him a surge of confidence. In later years, he applied his confidence and writing talent to the Youth for Christ (YFC) ministry.

Warren wrote many articles and guidebooks for YFC over a three-year period, but not all his manuscripts were seen by the public eye. One effort in particular, The Life I Now Live, based on Galatians 2:20, was never published. The reason, Warren explains with his characteristic humor, is simple: it was “a terrible book…Whenever I want to aggravate my wife, all I have to say is, ‘I think I’ll get out that Galatians 2:20 manuscript and work on it.’” Fortunately, Warren’s good manuscripts far outnumbered the “terrible” ones, and he was eventually hired by Moody Press to write three books.

The much-sought-after author then moved on to writing books for Calvary Baptist Church. It was during his ten years at Calvary that Expository Outlines on the New Testament and Expository Outlines on the Old Testament took shape. These two works later became the foundation of Warren’s widely popular Bible studies known as the Be series, featuring such titles as Be Loyal (a study on Matthew) and Be Delivered (a study on Exodus). Several of these books have been translated into Spanish.

His next avenue of ministry was Chicago’s Moody Memorial Church, where he served for seven years. He wrote nearly 20 books at Moody before moving to Lincoln, Nebraska, where he and his wife, Betty, now live. Prior to relocating, he had been the senior pastor of Moody Church, a teacher at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and a producer of the Back to the Bible radio program.

During all these years of ministry, Warren held many more posts and took part in other projects too numerous to mention. His accomplishments are extensive, and his catalog of biblical works is indeed impressive and far-reaching (many of his books have been translated into other languages). But Warren has no intention of slowing down any time soon, as he readily explains: “I don’t like it when people ask me how I’m enjoying my ‘retirement,’ because I’m still a very busy person who is not yet living on Social Security or a pension. Since my leaving Back to the Bible, at least a dozen books have been published, and the Lord willing, more are on the way.”

Wiersbe’s recent books include Your Next MiracleThe 20 Essential Qualities of a Child of GodClassic Sermons on the Fruit of the SpiritClassic Sermons on Jesus the ShepherdKey Words of the Christian LifeLonely PeopleA Gallery of GraceReal Peace: Freedom and Conscience in the Christian Life, and On Being a Leader for God.

The article above was adapted from Warren W. Wiersbe’s classic encouraging devotional: The Bumps Are What You Climb On: Encouragement For Difficult Days. Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell, 1996.

Dr. Charles R. Swindoll on The Messiah Who Understands Your Pain

“Getting Through The Tough Stuff of Pain” By Chuck Swindoll

HAVE YOU SEEN Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ? It’s like none other I’ve seen. It details the horrifying pain and anguish Jesus suffered in the final hours of His earthly life. By now, millions of viewers around the world have been moved beyond words by the graphic depiction of that violent and shockingly torturous ordeal. People of all ages, cultures, and races have looked on in alarm and disbelief as vivid scenes from the sacred story relentlessly rolled on, growing increasingly more bloody and intense. The film has stirred controversy that is unprecedented in recent history. But why? Why such shock at a story that has been told for centuries? Why the outrage over Gibson’s violent interpretation of Christ’s final days?

I would answer, because the film depicts and supports God’s revealed Word.

Many prefer to think of Jesus as meek and mild and gentle at heart. They find quiet rest in the loving Shepherd of Israel, who smiles at children, heals the sick, feeds the hungry, and speaks softly of a kingdom not of this world. Few wish to go much further. They resist embracing His inconceivable pain—His excruciating humiliation, that culminated in a horrible death at the hands of unjust men bent on cursing, cruelty, misery, and murder. No one wishes to dwell on such abject evil.

Yet that is precisely how the Scriptures portray Jesus—a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief ” (Isaiah 53:3).

The Bible swells with more appealing and endearing prospects of the Savior. They are the names we love to let fall from our lips in song and in prayerful devotion: Prince of Peace, Lord of Hosts, the Good Shepherd, the Great Physician, Morning Star, Lion of Judah, Lamb of God.

But Man of Sorrows? That doesn’t sound like anyone we’d care to get close to, does it? Until we find ourselves in the crucible of the tough stuff of pain. Enveloped in a world of hurt, broken by life’s brutal blows, we discover He’s everything we need.


Long before Mel Gibson even thought about making a movie that dramatically focused on the passion of Christ, the prophet Isaiah wrote his original script. It would serve as the basis of a drama to unfold nearly eight centuries later. Isaiah, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote of God’s promised Messiah—the One above all others who understands your pain and mine—the Man of Sorrows.

As It Relates to Jesus’s Life

Normally we don’t think of the Messiah in terms of weakness, sadness, deep sorrow, and grief. Yet Isaiah describes Him precisely in that manner, using just about every synonym available for suffering. Read slowly and thoughtfully the ancient prophet’s penetrating prophecy.

He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. (Isaiah 53:3–5)

He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. (v.7)

But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief. . . . As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities. (vv. 10–11) That doesn’t sound like a milquetoast Messiah to me, wouldn’t you agree? No, Jesus endured, and therefore He understands the depth of human pain and suffering. Look again at a list of Isaiah’s words: despised, griefs, sorrows, crushed, oppressed, afflicted, scourged, pierced through, smitten, stricken, like a lamb led to slaughter. Today we would say, He’s been there . . . done that, even though we don’t like to think about it. We like to think of Messiah as winning, not losing. We want to see Him in white garments coming on a white horse. We like Him to be conquering and victorious. But that is not the way He was predicted to be.

The writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews picks up the theme of Christ’s suffering when he writes, “In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and he was heard because of His piety” (Hebrews 5:7). I find that to be a remarkably comforting thought. The Son of God, in all His deity, being also fully human, felt the sting of impending death and called on His heavenly Father for comfort and help.

Stop and think about what you’ve just read. All of it has to do with pain—that four-letter word from which we try our best to escape. But Jesus deliberately did not choose that route. He accepted the pain, He endured it, and He embraced it. Webster’s Dictionary defines physical pain as “a basic bodily sensation induced by a noxious stimulus, received by naked nerve endings, characterized by physical discomfort . . . acute mental or emotional distress” (Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, s.v. “pain”). Jesus knew such physical and emotional pain, as we shall discover in the pages that follow. Being the Man of Sorrows that he was, He understands and identifies with our deepest hurts and struggles.

If there is anyone who can meet you in your pain, you have found Him in the prophet Isaiah’s Man of Sorrows.

As It Relates to Our Lives

You and I enter this world screaming. Physicians tell us that one of the first signs of good, healthy lungs in newborns is that initial, piercing cry. The tiny child whose little frame has only moments before squeezed its way through a narrow birth canal screeches in pain when it leaves the warmth of the womb and emerges with a gush into the cold, cruel world—a world of pain.

From the moments we’re born until our final breaths, pain is our companion, albeit one we’d choose to abandon. Still, pain does have its benefits. Physically, for instance, pain signals unseen trouble, and it helps caring mothers and physicians pinpoint the problem. Personally, just like Christ, we learn obedience from the things we suffer (Hebrews 5:8). Spiritually, the pain of adversity helps us grow into mature people of faith (James 1:2–4).

Philip Yancey, in his insightful work Where Is God When It Hurts? writes,

“I have never read a poem extolling the virtues of pain, nor seen a statue erected in its honor, nor heard a hymn dedicated to it. Pain is usually defined as “unpleasantness.” Christians don’t really know how to interpret pain. If you pinned them against the wall, in a dark, secret moment, many Christians would probably admit that pain was God’s one mistake. He really should have worked a little harder and invented a better way of coping with the world’s dangers. I am convinced that pain gets a bad press. Perhaps we should see statues, hymns, and poems to pain. Why do I think that? Because up close, under a microscope, the pain network is seen in an entirely different light. It is perhaps the paragon of creative genius (Philip Yancey. Where Is God When It Hurts? Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977, 1990, pp. 22-23).

Emotional or mental pain is not quite as objective. Almost always on target, C. S. Lewis adds this comment, “Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. It is easier to say ‘My tooth is aching’ than to say ‘My heart is broken.’ . . . Sometimes, however, it persists, and the effect is devastating” (C.S. Lewis. The Problem of Pain. New York: Collier Books, Macmillan Publishing Company, 1962, p. 156).

I love that quote! In other words, it’s hard enough to go to a dentist when I have a bad tooth, but where do I go with this broken heart? I suggest the answer is not that difficult: We go to Jesus, the Man of Sorrows, who is acquainted with grief, who understands our brokenness and pain. Pain has a way of turning us back to the Savior. That makes it essential for our growth and spiritual well-being. If you’re feeling despised, forsaken, rejected, crushed, or afflicted, Jesus understands (Hebrews 4:15). To what degree does He understand?

To answer that, let’s revisit those final hours of Jesus’s life and look closely at the categories of pain He suffered.


At the commencement of Christ’s ministry John the Baptist pointed to Him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). I’ve often imagined the dull sense of dread those words must have sent through Christ’s soul—knowing He’d one day be the actual “Lamb led to the slaughter.” Yet His physical suffering was only a portion of the cup of suffering He would be compelled to drink.

 Relational Pain

Matthew 26:30 tells us that Jesus and His disciples had just completed their final meal together, which they ended by singing a hymn. That must have been an extremely emotional time for the Savior, as He reflected on the torturous anguish He’d soon endure and those He’d be forced to leave behind. The men He had lived among for so many months knew nothing of what would soon unfold. But Jesus knew what was ahead of Him from that moment all the way to the cross. If there was ever a time when He needed the strong support of His closest friends, it was in those ominous hours in Gethsemane.

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me” (Matthew 26:36–38).

Gethsemane. The word means “oilpress.” Symbolically it is easy to see how it represents those places of deep, pressing pain and mental agony. We each have our own Gethsemane to endure. Perhaps you are in the depth of yours today. Maybe not; for you it could be in the future. Maybe you’ve passed through one and before you could catch your breath you’ve entered another. It’s always something! It’s at those times that having a few close friends means the most. We lean on them and draw strength from them.

In one of the most intimate scenes from Jesus’s life, Matthew writes of the Savior inviting His closest friends to remain with Him as a ready source of encouragement and support: “And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will’ ” (v. 39). Christ’s pain was so intense He pleaded with His Father for a way out of it. Don’t hurry over that. In Luke’s Gospel, we’re told that Jesus prayed with such intensity that He dripped sweat that “became like drops of blood” oozing from his skin and falling to the ground (Luke 22:44).

Drenched in pain’s agony, Jesus returned to His friends in hopes of finding some needed encouragement. But in that time, when He needed them the most, His disciples failed Him miserably. Read carefully through this tender but convicting scene, and allow Matthew’s words to touch you deeply. Let your heart be broken.

And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” Again He came and found them sleeping for their eyes were heavy. And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more. Then He came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going; behold the one who betrays Me is at hand!” (Matthew 26:40–46).

Each time Jesus returned to His friends, they lay snoozing in the grass. What a pathetic scene. To make things worse, as we saw in the previous chapter, one of His close companions stood ready to betray Him publicly. Jesus knelt in Gethsemane, broken in spirit and betrayed, anguished of soul and grieving, missing the comfort of those He had mentored for over three years. Truly alone, He now experienced the deep, relational pain of failed friendships and would soon feel the kiss of the traitor.

There is no place more alone than one’s own Gethsemane. Support groups are great. I believe in them and encourage every one of them in our church. But there are personal Gethsemanes you must walk through completely alone. You’ll always feel a deep loneliness while you’re getting through the tough stuff of pain. That’s when Christ will be there. Your best friends may fail you. Some will try to understand, but often they can’t. A few, frankly, will forget you. Some may turn against you. In the agony of your need for relational support, you’ll have all you need with Christ. You will find Him at those times closer than a brother. I know. He has met me in my own Gethsemanes, and He will do so again and again and yet again.

Internal Pain

A good friend of mine and former fellow church staff team member, David Carder, has spent years counseling brokenhearted people. Dave offers a rare insight into the reality of internal pain as he observes, “Knowing doesn’t automatically fix feelings.” Isn’t that an excellent insight?

In spite of the fact that Jesus knew all His life He would suffer a horrible death on the cross, such knowledge did not remove the internal agony
He endured when the zero hour arrived.

Jesus had known for thirty-three years that the cup of suffering would come. Knowing all of that for so long didn’t fix His feelings of intense pain. When the full weight landed on Him at Gethsemane, He pleaded for relief.

Herein lies a vital lesson for all of us: we are never more presumptuous than when we try to give hurting people the feelings we think they ought to have in their anguish. Don’t dare invade that tender, internal space! There are occasions when another’s anguish is essential for the accomplishment of God’s plan. Even though some of us wish to rescue others from pain, we need to restrain ourselves from doing so. Let’s guard against cutting in on God’s plan. Don’t try to fix people’s feelings. Our best involvement is usually to “keep watch and pray.” To stay near and be silent. To be available and to support.

Jesus understands better than anyone the silent cries of your internal pain.

 Physical Pain

For those who have seen The Passion of the Christ, I need not rehearse in detail the depth of physical pain Christ endured. The brutalities were horrific and like none experienced by anyone before or since. A quick glance at Matthew’s list provides an overview of the intensity of what Christ experienced physically.

  • He was seized and treated harshly like a common criminal (Matthew 26:57).
  • He was spit on in the face, slapped, and beaten (26:67).
  • He was bound and scourged, according to the other Gospel writers (27:2; Mark 15:15; John 19:1).
  • He was spit on again and mercilessly beaten with a reed (Matthew 27:30).
  • He was crucified, spikes driven into His hands and feet, and later a sword was thrust into His side (27:33–35; John 19:34).

Imagine the horror of having iron spikes pounded into your hands and into your feet. Or the excruciating humiliation of being hung naked in plain view of a gawking crowd. Insects no doubt swarmed His bloodsoaked body. It must have been a horrible event to witness, to say nothing of personally enduring it!

Christ’s body had been so mutilated He didn’t even look human. The physical pain He must have borne is nothing short of mind-boggling. Still there was a pain more severe than that which He felt physically. Thankfully because of Christ it’s a pain you and I will never know.

The Ultimate Pain—Separation from God

Though Christ’s relational, internal, and physical pain were horribly intense, the pain of being separated from His Father goes far beyond our ability to imagine. Matthew writes, “Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’” (Matthew 27:45–46).

For the first and only time, God turned His back on His Son. It was at that moment Christ bore all our sin. That’s why the Father could not look on Him—because of the affront of our iniquities. Christ experienced the ultimate pain—separation from God the Father. In absolute loneliness and pain Jesus screamed, “Why have You forsaken Me?”

Let me assure you, you cannot have a heartache that Jesus doesn’t understand and with which He doesn’t identify. You cannot have a physical pain that somehow escapes His awareness. You cannot have a crippling disease, a disability, a grief, a heart attack…not even a debilitating fear or panic attack that He cannot understand or feel.

He’s felt it all. Therefore He’s there to walk with you through your most profound depths of pain, if you’ll only let Him.

Do you have a lingering scar on your heart that won’t heal? Look at His hands, His feet, and His side. Feeling humiliated and alone? He knows what that feels like. Are you so confused by your circumstances that you’re tempted to bargain with God for relief? No need. Without one word from your lips, He understands. He’s touched with the feelings of our weaknesses, and therefore He identifies with them.

Perhaps you’re lonely. Your lifelong mate has gone to be with the Lord. You face an uncertain future—all alone. You may have recently been forgotten. Your parents told you to get out of their lives. Perhaps your husband or your wife just walked out for good, rejecting you for someone else. Or you may have just read a cruel letter from an adult child that included seven words you cannot bear to believe: “I never want to see you again.” Relationally, you need somebody. Internally, you’re in anguish. Physically, you’ve reached your threshold.

You may be confused, living with deep emotional scars as a result of being abused. You may suffer from such a horrible and shameful addiction that you fear rejection by anyone who might discover your secret. The pain of shame grips your soul and ambushes your thoughts. Perhaps you feel helpless, enraged, confused, disappointed, depressed, misunderstood, humiliated, and at the end.

Ultimately you wonder, as Jesus did, why God has forsaken you. You may feel that, but hear this: you are not alone. There is hope. There is help with the Savior by your side.


I want to close this chapter [article] with several analogies I hope will provide you a measure of comfort as you walk with Christ through the tough stuff of your pain.

Relationally, no one stays closer than Christ. Christ is better than the most faithful husband, more understanding than the most comforting wife, more reliable than the choicest friend. No one stays closer than Christ. There is no friend more caring. There is no person more unconditionally accepting. There is no one more available or more interested whom you can talk to in the middle of the night, or at any other time, simply by calling out in prayer. He even understands your groanings—He’s able to put correct meanings to your inexpressible moans! He has promised never to leave you. He will not walk out on you. No one stays closer than Christ. I’ll say it again: no one.

Internally, no one heals deeper than Christ. You may say, “I’ll never be able to get over this grief.” Yes you can, but not on your own. That’s where Christ is the Master Comforter. He’s the “Man of Sorrows.” Remember, He is intimately “acquainted with grief.” He understands what there is to lose. He lost everything for you. His own family thought He was insane. Right in the middle of His ministry they came to take Him away because they were convinced He was losing his senses. He knows what it feels like to suffer in silence, to be the brunt of unfair criticism, to feel helpless when no one understands, when no one remains in
your corner. His balm of comfort penetrates. No one heals deeper than Christ.

Physically, no one comforts better than Christ. In the midst of your deepest physical pain, His presence brings comfort and strength. He may choose to restore your physical health, but frankly, He may not. Regardless, His grace is abundantly sufficient for you. His hand is on your life at this time of your affliction. It’s better than the hand of any friend, any partner, any parent, or any child, because when He touches, He brings great compassion and lasting relief. No one comforts better than Christ. Ultimately, no one sees the benefits of our pain clearer than Christ. He sees through the dark, winding tunnel of your Gethsemane all the way to the end. You see only the unrelenting, frightening, thick darkness. He sees beyond it into the shining light of eternity. Maturity, growth, stability, wisdom, and ultimately the crown of life await the one who trusts His unseen hand. Keep in mind, He owns the map that gets you through your Gethsemane. No one sees the benefits of our pain clearer than Christ.

Whatever you’re facing today, please remind yourself that your pain is no mistake. It is no accident. In fact, your suffering may be precisely what Christ will use to bring you to your knees, to draw you back to His heart and discover His peace. “Man of Sorrows,” what a name! It’s the name of the Son of God. His name is Jesus. It’s the name that represents the extremes of pain and understanding, companionship and relief. Perhaps you have never recognized your need for a personal relationship with God, through faith in Christ. You’ve gripped the reins of your life tightly in your own hands. I suggest you release them and turn them over to God. Come to His Son, Jesus. Admit where you are and express to him what you need. A simple prayer is all it takes to begin this life-transforming relationship with Him. I close with a simple prayer you may use to speak in the quietness of your heart to the One who longs to walk with you through the tough stuff of personal pain.

A Salvation Prayer:

Father, thanks for sending Your Son – the Lord Jesus to empathize with my pain.

 I know that I’m a sinner. I’ve made a royal mess of my life.

 I’m tire of the fight. I’m tired of the pain I’ve added to my life as if You didn’t exist.

 Today, I come to You (Lord Jesus),

  believing that You died for me and that You rose from the dead.

 I turn my back on my stubborn ways as I surrender all to You.

 Take the reings, Lord Jesus. I release them to You.

 I accept Your forgiveness, and I claim Your grace.

 As I repent of my sins, especially my idolatry in putting other things before You.

 I believe that only Your grace through Your perfect life, death,

 and resurrection can save me, as I accept your gift of eternal life. Amen.

 “Hallelujah, What a Savior!” by Philip R. Bliss

“Man of Sorrows!” what a name

For the Son of God, who came

Ruined sinners to reclaim!

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,

In my place condemned He stood—

Sealed my pardon with His blood:

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Guilty, vile and helpless we,

Spotless Lamb of God was he;

Full atonement! Can it be?

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

*The article above was adapted from the excellent book by Charles R. Swindoll. Getting Through the Tough Stuff: It’s Always Something. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004.

 About the Author:

Dr. Charles R. Swindoll is senior pastor of Stonebriar Community Church, chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary, and the Bible teacher on the internationally syndicated radio program Insight for Living.

Charles Swindoll’s Books:

  • You And Your Child, Thomas Nelson (1977)
  • Hand Me Another Brick, Thomas Nelson (1978)
  • Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back: Persevering Through Pressure, Thomas Nelson (1980)
  • Strike The Original Match, Multnomah (1980)
  • Improving Your Serve: The Art Of Unselfish Living, Word (1981)
  • Strengthening Your Grip: Essentials In An Aimless World, Word (1982)
  • Growing Strong In The Seasons Of Life, Multnomah (1983)
  • Dropping Your Guard: The Value Of Open Relationships, Word (1983)
  • Come Before Winter – And Share My Hope, Multnomah (1985)
  • Living On The Ragged Edge: Coming To Terms With Reality, Word (1985)
  • Growing Deep In The Christian Life: Returning To Our Roots, Multnomah (1986)
  • The Quest For Character, Multnomah (1987)
  • Living Above The Level Of Mediocrity : A Commitment To Excellence, Word (1987)
  • Growing Wise In Family Life, Multnomah (1988)
  • Living Beyond The Daily Grind: Reflections On The Songs And Sayings In Scripture, Word (1988)
  • Rise & Shine: A Wake-Up Call, Multnomah (1989)
  • The Grace Awakening, Word (1990)
  • Sanctity Of Life: The Inescapable Issue, Word (1990)
  • Stress Fractures, Multnomah (1990)
  • Simple Faith, Word (1991)
  • Laugh Again, Word (1992)
  • Flying Closer To The Flame (Re-issued as Embraced by The Spirit: The Untold Blessings of Intimacy with God, Word in 1993 & Zondervan in 2010)
  • The Finishing Touch, Word (1994)
  • Paw Paw Chuck’s Big Ideas in the Bible, Word (1995)
  • Hope Again, Word (1996)
  • The Road To Armageddon (with John F Walvoord; J Dwight Pentecost), Word (1999)
  • Start Where You Are: Catch A Fresh Vision For Your Life, Word (1999)
  • The Mystery Of God’s Will: What Does He Want For Me?, Word (1999)
  • Perfect Trust: Ears To Hear, Hearts To Trust, And Minds To Rest In Him, J. Countryman (2000 & 2012)
  • The Darkness And The Dawn : Empowered By The Tragedy And Triumph Of The Cross, Word (2001)
  • Why, God?: Calming Words For Chaotic Times, Word (2001)
  • Wisdom For The Way: Wise Words For Busy People, J. Countryman (2001)
  • Understanding Christian Theology (with Roy B Zuck), Thomas Nelson (2003)
  • Behold—The Man!: The Pathway Of His Passion, Word (2004)
  • Getting Through the Tough Stuff: It’s Always Something! Thomas Nelson (2004)
  • So, You Want To Be Like Christ?: Eight Essentials To Get You There, Word (2005)
  • When God Is Silent (Choosing To Trust In Life’s Trials), J. Countryman (2005)
  • Great Attitudes For Graduates!: 10 Choices For Success In Life (with Terri A Gibbs), J. Countryman (2006)
  • Encouragement For Life: Words Of Hope And Inspiration, J. Countryman (2006)
  • The Strength Of Character: 7 Essential Traits Of A Remarkable Life (with Terri A Gibbs), J. Countryman (2007)
  • A Bethlehem Christmas: Celebrating The Joyful Season, Thomas Nelson (2007
  • The Owner’s Manual for Christians: The Essential Guide for a God-Honoring Life, Thomas Nelson (2009)
  • The Church Awakening: An Urgent Call for Renewal, FaithWords (2010 & 2012)
  • Meet Me In The Library: Readings From 8 Writers Who Shaped My Life, IFL (2011)
  • Saying It Well: Touching Others with Your Words, FaithWords (2012)
  • Living the Psalms: Encouragement for the Daily Grind, Worthy (2012)
  • Living the Proverbs: Living in the Daily Grind, Worthy (2013)

Swindoll’s New Testament Insights Commentary Series

  • Insights on Romans, Zondervan (2010)
  • Insights on John, Zondervan (2010)
  • Insights on James and 1 & 2 Peter, Zondervan (2010)
  • Insights on 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, Zondervan (2011)
  • Insights on Revelation, Zondervan (2012)
  • Insights on Luke, Zondervan (2012)
  • Insights on Galatians & Ephesians, Zondervan (2013)

 Profiles in Character series

  • David: A Man Of Passion & Destiny, Word (1997)
  • Esther: A Woman Of Strength & Dignity, Word (1997)
  • Joseph: A Man Of Integrity And Forgiveness, Word (1998)
  • Moses: A Man Of Selfless Dedication, Word (1999)
  • Elijah: A Man Of Heroism And Humility, Word (2000)
  • Paul: A Man Of Grace And Grit, Word (2002)
  • Job: A Man Of Heroic Endurance, Word (2004)
  • Fascinating Stories Of Forgotten Lives: Rediscovering Some Old Testament Characters, Word (2005)
  • Jesus: The Greatest Life Of All, Thomas Nelson (2008)

Honors and Awards

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