For sufferers, one of the most potentially hope-giving promises is Christ’s assurance, “I am with you” (Matt. 28:20). Yet our ability to draw strength and hope from this promise rests entirely on our view of Jesus. Who exactly is this Jesus who’s with us in our suffering?
We’ve all met people whose presence makes suffering worse. They spew negativity. They drip with judgmentalism. They seem more interested in fixing us than understanding us. They might even blatantly shame us. If these people promised, “I will be with you in your suffering,” we’d cringe and hope it wasn’t true. We’d rather suffer alone than with a disparaging presence.
Others are a balm in our struggles. They’re safe. They encourage us. They ask questions and listen well. They speak words of truth and life. We say of these people, “I don’t know how I could’ve made it through that without her.”
How do you view Jesus? When Jesus says, “I am with you in your suffering,” what emotions stir inside you? Comfort? Fear? Hope? Shame? Apathy? Consider three views of Jesus, and ask yourself which “Jesus” you relate to most.
View #1: Harsh Jesus
The apostle Paul observed that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). Yet sometimes the Devil doesn’t need to disguise himself—we do it for him. We grab hold of Scripture’s description of Satan, dress him up as Jesus, and then look to him in our suffering. Unsurprisingly, Harsh Jesus only makes our grief and pain worse.
This Jesus looks at us with disdain in his eyes. He doesn’t need to say a single word—we can tell by his expression that he’s judging us. He condemns us. He heaps burdens on us. He says, “Quit crying. It’s your fault you’re suffering anyway. God is getting back at you for your sin.”
Harsh Jesus hisses accusations, and we accept them as the voice of God. He’s impatient and impossible to please. He offers no forgiveness. No encouragement. No mercy. No help. This “Jesus” makes suffering intolerable.
View #2: Neutralized Jesus
Unlike Harsh Jesus, Neutralized Jesus doesn’t make suffering worse—but he doesn’t make it better either. His presence is like a wallflower, always in the room but rarely noticeable. We could live with or without him. He’s neutral.
There are many ways we neutralize Jesus in our minds. Some believe Jesus is powerful but doubt his care (cf. Mark 4:38; Luke 10:40). Others believe Jesus cares but doubt his ability to help in their (seemingly) unique situations (cf. Matt. 8:26; 14:31; John 5:6–7). Still others believe Jesus is hamstrung by their sin, unable to move in their lives until they clean themselves up (cf. John 4:13–18).
“I am with you” means little to those living with a neutralized Jesus. They say, “It’s a nice gesture, but his presence doesn’t make a difference in my broken life.”
View #3: Biblical Jesus
For the promise of Christ’s presence to fortify us in our suffering, we must reject the harsh and neutralized misconceptions of Jesus and renew our minds with the Jesus revealed in Scripture.
According to God’s Word, Jesus isn’t only with us; he’s unremittingly for us (Ps. 56:9; Rom. 8:31). His presence is always a favorable, advocating, affectionate presence—yes, even after we sin (Rom. 5:8; 1 John 2:1). Dane Ortlund remarks, “He’s not only there; he is on our team. He is for us. . . . He is looking at us and saying, ‘I am rooting for you. I am in your corner. You [can] fall into my open, nail-scarred hands any time you want.’”
In our suffering—even that which we’ve brought on ourselves by our sin—the true Jesus remains on our side. He faithfully disciplines us (Rev. 3:19) and calls us to repent and follow him—yet he does so with unmatched tenderness. Ortlund again:
Jesus is not trigger-happy. Not harsh, reactionary, easily exasperated. He is the most understanding person in the universe. The posture most natural to Jesus is not a pointed finger but open arms.
In the Fire of Affliction with Us
The story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego gives us a powerful picture of Christ’s compassion in our suffering. God famously saved these men from a blazing furnace after they refused to worship the king’s golden statue. But how God saved them is curious and often overlooked.
Before Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were delivered from the fire, a fourth man—whom Timothy Keller and others identify as a pre-incarnate manifestation of Christ—appeared “walking in the midst of the fire” with them (Dan. 3:25). How strange is this? Christ could’ve easily appeared next to the king—safely and comfortably removed from the fire—and called out, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, come out of the fire!” This would’ve showcased his power and authority. Instead, Christ joined his people, preferring to endure the fire with them before saving them.
And so Jesus does for us. Our Savior refuses to sit back and watch us suffer alone. Christ became man to identify, suffer, and walk with his people before saving us, forever binding himself to us intimately.
When Jesus says, “I am with you,” he says it as One who knows the pain of suffering. He understands our weaknesses, fears, and struggles. He has felt the heat of the fire himself. And those flames were hottest on the cross, where Jesus was scorched for us so we’d never have to walk through the fire of affliction alone.
When Jesus says, ‘I am with you,’ he says it as One who knows the pain of suffering.
One day, Jesus will return to extinguish the fire of affliction forever. Until that day, we must remember our Savior is unreservedly committed to us and he walks amid the fire with us, even now.
“When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, and the flame will not burn you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, and your Savior. . . . Do not fear, for I am with you.” (Isa. 43:2–3, 5, CSB)