BCC Staff Note: Today’s blog post is from regular contributer and pastor, Kyle Johnston. This is a repost of an article he wrote for Scope magazine and can be found here.
The Loneliness of Suffering
Suffering has a way of isolating us. When we suffer, we can easily feel alone—loneliness seems to follow suffering. Pastor Timothy Keller, drawing on the insights of French philosopher Simone Weil, writes that one of the marks of suffering is isolation: “A barrier goes up between us and even our closest friends. One reason is that you, the sufferer, suddenly sense a new gulf between yourself and almost anyone who has not experienced what you are going through. People who, you once felt, shared a common experience with you no longer do.” 
When we suffer, we feel alone. Perhaps, in your case, this is exacerbated by friends or family who no longer know how to relate to you. This social clumsiness also creates a sense of rejection, adding to the existing pain you are already experiencing. On top of these, a further difficulty is feeling forgotten by God Himself. This can make the isolation of suffering almost unbearable. When you find yourself in the storm, pain is present but God seems absent. The suffering and isolation are tangible, but God’s love seems intangible. When we suffer, we can easily feel forgotten by God and others.
God’s people have known pain and suffering for millennia. I’m currently working through the New Testament book of 1 Peter and am surprised at how significant the theme of suffering is. Almost a third of the occurrences of the Greek verb to suffer in the New Testament are found in 1 Peter alone. The Apostle Peter is writing to Christians who are mired in suffering. So let’s take a look at how this ancient pastor addresses those who are familiar with pain and sorrow.
The Father’s Chosen People
His opening lines are remarkable: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father…”
What is the first thing that Peter says to hurting Christians? Does he give them some advice? No—he reminds them of who they are. Specifically, he reminds them of who they are in relation to God: chosen (not forgotten). God has elected them; they have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of their Heavenly Father.
This concept of being God’s chosen people originally applied to God’s people in the Old Testament and had a strongly ethnic flavor to it. But now Peter applies it to all those who have put their faith in Christ. This really is remarkable and worth reflection: though we have done nothing to deserve it (quite the opposite, in fact) we have been chosen by God. The privilege of knowing God as Father is ours. We have access to Him anytime—even in our suffering. In our pain, we are not forgotten by our Father.
As a counselor, I have seen the significance of how we view ourselves, particularly in the midst of difficulty. When we are submerged in pain and suffering, we are tempted to see ourselves as irrelevant, as failures, or even as people who are rejected and forgotten by God. It is very easy to allow our circumstances, especially our pain and suffering, to shape our sense of identity—but the task we’re all faced with is to view ourselves the way God does. He sees us as His chosen people- not forgotten, not rejected. If you belong to Christ, if you’ve put your faith in Jesus, then the glorious truth is this: God the Father has personally hand-picked you. He foreknew you, and He knows you now. He is with you. He remembers you. Even though you might be forgotten by others, God knows you. You belong to Him. Though the suffering we experience creates isolation, though we may feel rejected and forgotten—God knows you and remembers you. You are His chosen child. He is with you in the storm. Can I encourage you to dwell on that? Dwell on your identity and His presence, and fight the isolation of suffering with the truth of His love. He has chosen you and remembers you. You are not rejected and forgotten. You are chosen and remembered even in the midst of suffering.
The Surprise and Comfort of a Suffering Savior
Finally, one of the most surprising and comforting truths of the Christian faith is that God personally knows suffering. Instead of just dispensing spiritual truths from a distance, God became a man in Jesus Christ, and lived a life of suffering. Jesus can relate to you because He had to walk through the same troubles we find ourselves in. Jesus personally knows the variegated miseries of this world. More than that, He is near—He is with us in the pain as a Friend to lean on, a Lord to follow, and a Savior to rest in.
As the famous hymn puts it:
Crown Him the Son of God, before the worlds began,
And ye who tread where He hath trod, crown Him the Son of Man;
Who every grief hath known that wrings the human breast,
And takes and bears them for His own, that all in Him may rest.
He took our sins and our sorrows. He made them His very own so that we might find forgiveness, life, shelter, and rest in Him. He is with you in the storm. Call out to Jesus, because you are chosen—not forgotten.
 Timothy Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, (Dutton, 2013), 213.