Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you criticize them, you are a mile away from them and you have their shoes. – Jack Handey
My friend Adam is a wise guy. Not in a, “A rabbi, a priest, and a vegan walk into a bar” sort of way, but in a Proverbs, real life street wisdom sort of way. He is a residence director at our local university, which means he works with college students every day. He deals with students in trouble, students in the dumps, students on academic probation, students on drugs, students who have been assaulted, and students who are on the verge of dropping out of college. In other words, he deals with kids who are pretty vulnerable. Kids who have really been slapped around by life.
When interacting with vulnerable kids Adam could easily resort to saying, “I know what you’re going through.” After all, that’s what we say when someone is in a tough spot. We try to relate their experience to our experience. We try to sympathize with them. To comfort them out of our own experience. To let them know they’re not alone. To make them feel loved. And that impulse to comfort others is a good impulse. But Adam doesn’t always do that. Why? Because he knows that in most cases he doesn’t really know what a person is going through. He may be able to relate to some circumstances, but he can’t really know what a person is going through. That is wisdom.
The reality is, when someone is suffering we don’t know what they’re going through. Even if we have experienced similar circumstances as a person who is suffering we don’t process the world the way they do. And we don’t have the same personal history, biological makeup, or support system. When someone is going through the meat grinder we can only know a tiny portion of what they are really experiencing.
Our limited ability to know the suffering of others is what makes 2 Corinthians 7:6 so precious. It says, “But God, who comforts the downcast….”
Jesus knows us fully. He knows our strengths and weaknesses, our family history, our biological makeup, our worldview. He knows every nook and cranny of us. He knows us better than we know ourselves. And he also knows suffering on an intense, personal level. Jesus’ knowledge of suffering is not abstract, ivory tower, textbook knowledge. Jesus was a man of sorrows. He was mocked, betrayed, and humiliated. As he hung on the cross he was cut off from the Father. Jesus knew excruciating, overwhelming, crushing sorrow.
The combination of Jesus’ omniscience and personal experience with deep suffering perfectly equip him to comfort us in our own suffering. He really does know what we’re going through, and he is ready to comfort us when we are downcast. He doesn’t leave us to muddle and slog through suffering on our own. He doesn’t tell us to suck it up, buck up, and get up. He meets us in our downcast state and pours out grace upon us.
Suffering tempts us to withdraw from God when in reality we should press hard into God. Are you downcast? Are you suffering? Do you feel like you’ve been chewed up and spit out? Do you feel like butter scraped over too much bread? Draw near to the God who comforts the downcast. Draw near to the God who knows you exactly and knows exactly what you need. Draw near in your weakness and weariness and ready-to-call-it-quits-ness.
God has a special place in his heart for the downcast. Move toward that place.
Stephen Altrogge serves as a pastor at Sovereign Grace Church. Find out more at The Blazing Center.