Holding onto Hope in the Face of Suffering

Carolyn Dale Newell

Carolyn Dale Newell

Contributing Writer
Updated May 24, 2024
Holding onto Hope in the Face of Suffering

Have you ever experienced a trial where God is silent?

Are you going through some type of suffering, possibly physical, emotional, or even spiritual? I can sympathize with your great need for that trial to end and for something to ease the pain. I also know how great suffering leads us to hopelessness.

Surgical pain brought on sleepless nights which tossed me into a sea of discouragement. My multiple complications felt like waves crashing over my head. I also beat myself up wondering if I had messed up by having this surgery to correct my scoliosis. Had I incorrectly discerned the peace I felt from God? Yes, I had incredible pain before the surgery, but no one warned me about the nerve damage that came along with surgery. I had trusted God to show mercy with the pain and complications, but where was God now? Is that the same question Mary and Martha asked when Jesus delayed allowing Lazarus to die?

A Delay Isn’t a Denial

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were siblings who often welcomed Jesus into their home. Mary could be found at the feet of Jesus worshipping Him, while Martha cooked scrumptious meals in the kitchen. Jesus loved this family deeply. He spent much time in their home.

The sisters sent a messenger to Jesus when Lazarus became deathly ill, but most commentators agree that Lazarus would have died the same day the messenger left to find Jesus. Upon reaching Jesus, the messenger told Him Lazarus was quite sick (John 11:3).

How did Mary and Martha feel when the messenger returned to them without Jesus? Did they feel betrayed when Jesus showed up four days late? Lazarus had already been buried and decomposition had begun.

Like these grieving sisters, we don’t understand that Jesus has a greater purpose for our suffering. This story ended with one of the greatest miracles Jesus did. He raised Lazarus from the grave after being dead for four days. Even greater than the miracle is the glory God received. Great suffering leads to great miracles and greater glory for God.

It’s hard for us to wrap our heads around God’s glory when we cry out for pain to cease. However, His glory takes precedence over our suffering. Does that sound cruel?

Did Mary and Martha ever question Jesus as to why He allowed them to endure such heartache? Have you ever asked those same questions?

It’s not cruel, my friend. Jesus is loving, merciful, and kind. He loved us so much that He died for us. Jesus’s death and resurrection glorified the Father, so Jesus understands suffering for God’s glory. He suffered so we can have eternal life. He doesn’t desire to inflict pain on us, but He lives to glorify His Father.

You see, suffering strengthens our faith. Another reason Jesus delays is to strengthen our faith. Each sleepless night chiseled away at my faith, but I believe I have stronger faith now after enduring the trial. This miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead strengthened the faith of the sisters, the disciples, and many Jews. It caused some to believe in Christ.

Hope in the Face of Disappointment

Each night, my prayers grew shorter. What was the use? God never answered, and my pain continued. I can’t say I felt God’s peace or grace. Have you ever experienced a trial where God is silent? We often associate His silence with the assumption that He isn’t working on our behalf.

Silence is what Mary and Martha heard as they watched their brother die with no sign of Jesus. When Jesus finally arrived, the sisters didn’t hide their disappointment.

I think of disappointment as missing out on a lunch invitation, but disappointments can be huge. My recovery seemed to be doing better at the four-month mark. The horrible nightly pain had almost ended, except for some residual restless leg syndrome. Then as winter drew near, I began feeling worse. During this time, I struggled with fatigue and mood swings. I was content to stay in bed and watch TV rather than return to my writing and speaking ministry. In February, the doctor switched one of my medications for a thyroid condition and my mood lifted.

Have you ever felt disappointed? Martha was the first one to greet Jesus when He arrived:

"Now Martha said to Jesus, 'Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.'" John 11:22 (NKJV)

In other words, "It’s Your fault my brother died Jesus." Martha firmly believed that Jesus could have healed Lazarus. With great boldness, Martha confronted Jesus. Do we do that? Do we have those conversations in our prayers?

Notice Jesus did not rebuke Martha for her accusation. He already knows how we feel, so why not be honest with Him? What if we did this at the first hint of disappointment instead of allowing our disappointment to grow?

When you suffer long and Jesus is quiet, have you ever found yourself withdrawing from Him? Mary was usually eager to meet Jesus, but she remained in the house until Martha called her to see Him. Mary responded with the same accusatory tone as Martha. Jesus disappointed both sisters with His delay, and they didn’t hide it.

Mary still fell at the feet of Jesus even in the face of grief, though (John 11:32). This is a posture of worship. Mary still worshiped Jesus after Jesus didn’t come in time to heal Lazarus.

If you face great suffering, disappointment, and delays today, don’t shut Jesus out. You may not feel like worshipping Him, but once you do, my friend, you’ll feel better.

During my recovery, I lost my praise. Yes, I still shouted, “Amen!” and “Hallelujah!” but my praise lacked fervency. One day, I realized that, and I made a point to praise my Lord, and I felt better. Praise consoles the pain.

Don’t Lose Faith!

Doubt is the enemy of faith, and we must keep it far from us, especially during difficult times. Mary and Martha firmly believed Jesus would heal their brother when they sent the messenger. Jesus’ delay messed with their faith. Can you relate? We are so accustomed to walking by sight and not faith. I found it difficult to hold onto faith while I suffered with no change.

When Martha met Jesus, He told her Lazarus would rise again (John 11:23). Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day” ( John 11:24 NKJV).

Martha’s theology was correct. She had learned a lot while Jesus was in their home, but Jesus wasn’t talking about a future resurrection. He planned a supernatural intervention within a few hours. Jesus responded to Martha:

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” John 11:25-27 (NKJV)

Martha said she believed, but in a few minutes, her faith would be put to the test when Jesus asked her to act. Jesus asked Martha to take the stone away (John 11:39). Martha responded with logic rather than faith. She explained that her brother’s body had begun to stink. Martha needed to walk by faith and not just talk, so Jesus reminded her of what she had said earlier:

Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40 NKJV).

Faith is believing without seeing. I’m right there with you and Martha, though. When I don’t see God moving, my faith shrinks. Those are the times it needs to grow.

Whenever we obediently follow through with the tasks the Lord gives, we are walking by faith. That’s when we will see the glory of God, just like Mary and Martha.

They removed the stone and Jesus yelled for Lazarus to come forth. Lazarus walked out of the tomb!

Mary and Martha grieved. Delay and disappointment confused them. Their faith turned to doubt, but they witnessed one of the greatest miracles Jesus did on earth. 

Can we learn to hold onto faith during the discouragement of great suffering? It’s almost been one year since my surgery. I believe I will continue to heal and things like sitting for long periods of time will improve, but it will be slow.

I’ve learned that when Jesus is silent, it doesn’t mean He is still. I want to challenge you, sweet friend, and myself to:

-Trust in God’s timing, no matter how slow it is.

-Not withdraw from Jesus.

-Always worship Him, even when you don’t feel like it.

-Put your faith into action.

If you’re in a season of hardship and pain right now, I encourage you. I know how hard it is to hold onto hope, but Jesus is our hope—not our health, not our relationships, and not our finances. Hope in Jesus Christ right now, my friend. With Christ, hope always lives.

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Marjan Apostolovic

Carolyn Dale Newell headshot with dogCarolyn Dale Newell is an author and certified speaker. She knows what it is to live with blindness, but she calls her disability a gift from God. Her passion is to equip women to break free from emotional strongholds through her book, Faith That Walks on Water: Conquering Emotional Bondage with the Armor of God. You can connect with Carolyn on her website and her women’s ministry group on Facebook