How can I comfort a loved one going through suffering and trials?

Steven Lawson & Kevin DeYoung
3 Min Read

LAWSON: Spurgeon said that the sovereignty of God was the pillow he laid his head upon at night as he went through hours of great adversity and difficulty. In his book, Trusting God, Jerry Bridges singles out three attributes of God: God is all-wise, God is all-loving, and God is all-powerful. Understanding that triad of attributes helps us know that God is sovereign over our adversity and trials.

The doctrine of providence teaches that God has ordained even our suffering and that He purposes to use that for His glory and for our good. For example, help someone look to the Son of God, a Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief. The road that was set out before Him involved much rejection, crucifixion, and an ignominious death, yet this was the foreordained, predetermined plan of God. I think the greatest hope we can give to someone is that things are not out of control. God is sovereignly in control and has all-wise purposes through our suffering for a greater good. Knowing that He is loving, that He is with us, and that He will never leave us nor forsake us is ultimately the greatest comfort in suffering.

To be familiar with the character of God and the attributes of God is an anchor for the soul to be reminded of who He is and His interaction in our lives. He does all things well. His plan is perfect, even when it includes suffering, adversity, and difficulty. That’s where I would begin in trying to comfort someone: God truly causes all things to work together for our good.

DEYOUNG: It sounds cliché, but it’s true that while people often forget what you say, they will remember that you were there. They will remember that you showed up at the hospital room or the funeral, that you wrote a note, that you were thinking of them, that you were listening to them.

In addition to what has already been said, we want to be sure that as we use Scripture with people, we use it in a way that invites them to tell more of their story and doesn’t feel like a stiff arm to stop sharing. Sometimes we comfort people in their suffering in a way that really makes it about us and our uncomfortability with their suffering. I say that is someone who has suffered so, so little.

We also need to remind people of the end of the story. I’ve spent most of my life in Michigan. I’m a Michigan State Spartan fan. They were recently playing Northwestern and were down by twenty-seven points. My friend, Collin Hansen, went to Northwestern. He wrote me after Michigan State came back and won, and he said, “I never once, in the entire game, thought Northwestern was going to win”—he was right. But when you’re watching the game and it’s your team, you’re thinking, “This is horrible.” But now that you know how it ends, if you’re a fan of that team, you’ll say: “Let’s watch that one again. I love this.” When you watch the parts where they get down more, it’s even better because you know the end of the story.

In a way that isn’t trite, with tenderness and tears, we need to help people realize the end of the story. We love the story of Joseph, and we know how it ends. He didn’t know how it was going to end when he was there in the pit, sold into slavery. He didn’t know how it was going to end when he was in prison, having done nothing wrong. What did the disciples think about the story on Holy Saturday? What did the Israelites think about the story that was being written for them for four centuries of slavery? We know these Bible stories and we love them because they go from suffering to victory in a few chapters—but they inhabited that for a lifetime, some of them for centuries.

We need to help each other realize that part of faith is believing in the story that God has written for you that you can’t see yet. The worst part about suffering is when you don’t have hope that this will ever change or that there will be a purpose. We need to be able to say: “You’re in that spot in the story where you’re in the whale, when you thought Jesus was the Messiah but now He’s dead, when Joseph is in prison and the baker and the cupbearer forgot about him. But you know what the end of the story is, and I believe it for you. Let’s press on.”

This is a transcript of Steven Lawson’s and Kevin DeYoung’s answers given during our 2018 National Conference and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, email or message us on Facebook or Twitter.