Jesus, Suffering, and Good Friday

Closer to God

If you have attended a funeral, chances are that you have listened to a reading of Psalm 23. This is probably one of the most well-known and frequently quoted passages in the Bible so it is easy to gloss over it. However, if we examine it just a bit more closely, we can consider a deeper truth about God and God’s call on our lives when it comes to times of suffering. Take a look at the Psalm again and pay attention to the shift that occurs from verse 3 to 4.

1The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside the still waters,
3He restores my soul.
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
4Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
I will fear no evil,  
for you are with me.

Jesus, Suffering & Good Friday

Initially the psalmist is telling us about God, using third person language, repeatedly writing “he” in the first three verses to refer to God. But then, in verse 4, he begins to refer to God using the pronoun “you”—a shift in voice from the third to second person. God becomes familiar and personal, drawing close to the psalmist, guiding him, leading him. And when does this occur? When the psalmist walks through “the valley of the shadow of death.”

In the most difficult and trying moment, he understands God as one who draws near, becoming more known and personal. God does not stand at a distance on the next hill. He enters the valley and goes through the pain with the psalmist.

God does not stand at a distance on the next hill. He enters the valley and goes through the pain with the psalmist.

Journeying Through Suffering

In terms of pastoring, what can we learn here? First, we must always communicate to the people that we serve that God is close, personal, intimately aware of our struggles and pain and unafraid of our suffering. Second, and perhaps just as important, we are called to mimic this behavior. Though suffering is complex and painful and even awkward, we must not be afraid to journey with those whom we serve through their dark moments.

In his book Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, Eugene Peterson writes, “One of the commonest ways to deal with another’s suffering is to make light of it…to attempt shortcuts through it.” We can understand this temptation, can’t we?

Simple answers like, “God has a plan,” and, “Everything happens for a reason,” seem to be something that might encourage and give us an easy way out, but to those who are in pain such phrases ring false and speak of a God who cares not for those who suffer but rather tells them they should “get over it.” The intention might be good but the result usually isn’t. People are left questioning their faith and their God.

There is no suffering that we experience with which Jesus is not already familiar.

We must resist the temptation to avoid suffering. Instead, as Peterson writes later, “When a pastor encounters a person in trouble, the first order of pastoral ministry is to enter into the pain and to share the suffering.” This is where things get more difficult, but also where we have the humbling opportunity to do as Jesus did and suffer alongside another, to bear a burden.

The God Who Suffers

We find this Jesus who suffers fully realized in what we now refer to as Holy Week, specifically on Good Friday. We know how the story goes and that Easter is coming, but we do well to pause at Good Friday. Consider that in our sin, Jesus came to us. Consider that in our brokenness, Jesus offered us love and grace. Consider that in our suffering, Jesus drew near.

Good Friday is the ultimate revelation of that love, grace, and nearness. It is the story of Jesus going to the cross to suffer in every way possible: physically as he slowly drowned while his lungs filled with fluid; emotionally as he faced betrayal of his friends and the mockery of those who hated him; spiritually as he even faced his Father turning from him.

There is no suffering that we experience with which Jesus is not already familiar. And there is no suffering that he does not call us to engage in some way. When he said, “Take up your cross and follow me,” he was inviting his followers to do as he did, to be willing to die to themselves, to suffer, and in doing so to be agents of hope, grace, love, and redemption. We have that sacred opportunity to enter into the suffering of our students, our church members, and our communities, as God leads us. Let us not be afraid to do so but rather embrace this holy work.

As God draws near to us in the dark moments, we can draw near to others in their dark moments. What a privilege to do for others what Jesus has already done for us! As you walk with Jesus through Good Friday into Easter Sunday, consider how you might join your youth in their lives through suffering alongside them.

About the Author: Bryan Amerling

Bryan AmerlingBryan Amerling has been a youth pastor for 18 years.  He has been married to his amazing wife Sheridan for 18 years as well, and has two children; Rebekah, 13, and Ethan, 10.  He holds a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering from the University of Florida, and a Masters of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary.  When not playing with his family or working with the youth in his church, he enjoys Florida Gator football, reading, and playing guitar.  You can email him at



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