This blog was written by Jasmine Creighton Manis in reflection on the loss of her sister. As a team who is constantly interacting with students who encounter suffering, the hope is that she is a place of relateablity that also points those who are also suffering to who Jesus is. She is also one of the builders behind the Bible 316 class, and as she talks through why God’s truth is important in suffering you can see why her heart behind students learning the scriptures burns so brightly. Here are her thoughts on suffering and why truth matters:
I remember reading a quote about how our suffering allows us to feel the nearness of God more clearly.
I also remember getting angry upon reading this quote.
The past three months of my life have been marked with deep suffering. The majority of this suffering has been beyond my grasp—I can’t understand it, I don’t want to address it, I can’t wrap my head around the reality of losing my sister. She’s gone, not here. I’ll never see her again as long as I live. So much has happened in these last three months that I’ve hardly begun to scratch the surface of.
At the same time, the past three months of my life have been marked with deep faith. I’ve been blown away by how God has revealed himself as true and certain, how his Spirit has instilled confidence within my heart that the God I know and love and serve really is sure and steady. Deep suffering has lent itself to deep faith, and this is all by the grace of a God who doesn’t let up in confirming himself to his people. I know he is God, I know he is near, and I know he is working.
I wish I could say the same about feeling his nearness. I know the reality of the things God has promised: he is always working (Philippians 1:6), he is always for me (Romans 8:28), he will never leave me (Deuteronomy 31:6), and he is bringing about his glory (Isaiah 40:5). I know this, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I feel it. I may know these things to be certain, and I may be sure that his Spirit has kept me in a place of trusting, but that doesn’t mean my heart is on board with everything I know to be true. If I’m being honest, most days my heart feels dead. It doesn’t leap for joy at hearing these realities. It doesn’t even linger in sorrow as much as it should. It just remains cold, unmoving, existing in a state of apathy.
So I hear this quote, probably from a well-meaning, Jesus-loving person, and I’m mad. I’m confused. “I’m certainly suffering,” I think to myself, “but I don’t feel closer to God. I know these things are true of him—without a doubt—but my heart is cold in response.”
Which leads me to the question, “Why? Why is my heart not in sync with my head? Why is it so hard for me to feel as I should toward the Lord? He has shown himself faithful, more faithful than ever, yet I feel unmoved.”
God had an answer for me in Jeremiah chapter 17 verse 9:
“The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?”
I certainly can’t. I can’t understand how my heart would be so unmoved by a God who is so clearly moving. I can’t understand why I would be so hardhearted in a time of my life where I should have a tender heart. I don’t get it.
But God tells me that he does understand. He knows why I feel dead-hearted, why I feel cold and unmoved. He says to me, “Your heart is desperately sick.” And if I know anything about my God, I know he doesn’t leave his people without hope. Our hearts are sick, but he gives a solution:
“I the Lord search the heart
and test the mind…”
I don’t understand why my heart is the way it is when it should be a different way, but God does. He tells me that my heart is sick. He tells me that my heart is ill, bound to destroy itself like a cancer cell that consumes the body.
He also tells me that this is the very heart that he searches. He doesn’t discard. He sees and seeks my cold and dead heart, and he promises to give me a new one:
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
God—our good and faithful God—has promised this. It will happen, and it is happening. Sure, I don’t feel toward him and his truths the way I should, and I hate this. But what do I have to cling onto when my heart is tempted to eat away at itself with cold cynicism? I have his sure and steady truths to hold onto. I have the assurance that he searches my heart. I have the assurance that he will give me a new and restored heart one day, a heart that knows and loves him fully. And I have the hope that even now I am being transformed by the renewing of my mind (Romans 12:2).
God is transforming my heart of stone by informing me with his Word. God will give me a fully restored heart one day. And God never goes back on his word (Isaiah 55:11).
This is what I cling to when my heart feels like it’s sinking. This is what I cling to when I feel distracted by worldly pleasures. This is what I cling to when I feel nothing at all.
I am being humbled by seeing the sickness of my own heart and that it remains sick even when suffering. Suffering should make us feel our need more clearly, yes. Suffering should, ideally, warm our affections toward a God who is near. I agree with this. But what if there’s more to it? What if suffering serves a different purpose than simply making us feel closer to God? I believe there is something that needs to take place before. The psalmist in Psalm 119 says,
“Before I was afflicted I went astray,
but now I keep your word.
You are good and do good;
teach me your statutes.”
Do you see what he says? Before he suffered, he wandered. He had received no blows from the Lord—and maybe he was even happy—but he went astray. We know straying from the Lord is ultimately the worst thing that could happen to us because it ends in eternal death and suffering. Before the psalmist experienced suffering, this was his fate. So what did God do to get his attention? He sent affliction. The psalmist receives the blessing of affliction, and with that has a perspective shift. He now sees life for what it is, and it sets him on a straight path. Affliction sets him up to keep the word of God. Affliction directs him in the way of life.
What if this is the first step in our suffering? What if the blows are intended to wake us up, to shake us into seeing that the things we hope in are flimsy and falling, that we need a steady foundation? And what is the foundation we need? The word of God (Luke 6:46-49).
Even in suffering, my heart remains sick. It doesn’t respond to the Lord in the way he deserves. But he has shown me what is true, and he has given me a foundation upon which to stand. My physical heart may be withering away, but the Lord is renewing me day by day. My heart may be cold, but he is faithful to one day replace my heart of stone with a heart of flesh. In the meantime, he calls me to obey. He calls me to cling to what he has spoken, and to be transformed by this. A transformed heart follows an informed mind. Affliction paves the way for a person with a sick heart to keep the good word of God.
So cling to it. Whether your heart is feeling happy or sad, warm or cold, alive or dead, hold fast to the word of life. Your new heart is coming, but your God is already here, and he is speaking.