The Comfort of Christmas in a World of Hurt

This year has been strange in the least and miserable at its worst. No matter where you find yourself this Christmas season, it’s my hope that you will be blessed and encouraged as I share my story and what I’ve learned with you.

Entering my sophomore year of college, I was in line for a starting position on the basketball team. I put in a ton of work that previous offseason and hit the weight room hard, so going into that year I was in the best physical shape of my life and was looking forward to having a successful season. But like so many times in life, things did not go according to my plan, as I’m sure some of you might be feeling especially now.

My body began to turn on me. Nothing I ate sat well. I had persistent abdominal pain like I was digesting glass, along with other symptoms that I won’t describe here. From September to March of that school year, I lost about 25% of my body weight. I was embarrassed by my symptoms and scared and confused as to what was happening to me. It wasn’t until I went home for spring break that I was able to see a doctor and that’s when he diagnosed me with an Inflammatory Bowel Disease known as Crohn’s Disease.

For about 2 more years I struggled with the pain and other symptoms and tried different medications before finding something that worked. It was during that time of my life that I was forced to wrestle with some tough questions. Questions like: “God, why is this happening to me?” “Do you care about the pain I’m in?” and “God, are even you there?” I had always believed in God, but at that time in my life it was hard not to doubt as I struggled with feelings of loneliness, anger, and sadness.

In my search for answers, I found some good ones, some bad ones, and some questions are honestly still a mystery. But of all I learned there was one revelation that was, and continues to be, helpful to me and it has all to do with what us Christians celebrate this time of year – the birth of Jesus.

In the Christian view, Jesus wasn’t just another human being, but rather he is Immanuel (God with us)[1]. Now, I had heard that hundreds of times growing up in a Christian home, especially around Christmas time, but it’s significance never clicked with me until I was dealing with my own suffering. Perhaps for you, like me, this hasn’t clicked either, but we’re not alone in that. The famous 19th century atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had a similar disconnect. He once said, “The gods justified human life by living it themselves – the only satisfactory [response to the problem of suffering] ever invented.” The irony in this statement from Nietzsche is that he made it in reference to the Greek gods, but unfortunately never appeared to have made the connection to Jesus.

You see, Jesus didn’t just sit idly by and watch on as the story of humanity unfolded, but rather out of great compassion he entered human history himself and experienced human life like we all do. Timothy Keller makes this point well in his book, The Reason for God. In his chapter How Could a Good God Allow Suffering, he writes:

“Christianity alone among the world religions claims that God became uniquely and fully human in Jesus Christ and therefore knows firsthand despair, rejection, loneliness, poverty, bereavement, torture, and imprisonment. On the cross he went beyond even the worst human suffering and experienced cosmic rejection and pain that exceeds ours as infinitely as his knowledge and power exceeds ours. In his death, God suffers in love, identifying with the abandoned and god-forsaken. Why did he do it? The Bible says that Jesus came on a rescue mission for creation. He had to pay for our sins so that someday he can end evil and suffering without ending us.”

To put it as succinctly as I can, I never found out specifically why I’m suffering with Crohn’s, but I did learn why it can’t be. It cannot be because God is unconcerned about my condition and doesn’t care about me. And I also learned that a God who has voluntarily endured suffering deserved by me[2], out of love for me[3], is a God that I can trust in the midst of my own suffering. However, that isn’t the end of the story. If Christianity is true, and trust me, I do realize how big of an if that can be. But if it is true, then there is not only a God who can empathize with your pain[4], but one who, if you will seek him and ask, will walk with you through it[5], and redeem it for good in the end[6]. And I believe that is an if that might just be worth your time investigating.

If you, like many others right now, are struggling to find joy in this season, whether that’s due to the COVID pandemic and/or other circumstances, then I would just encourage you to take a little closer look at Jesus, the God who suffered for us and suffers with us – Immanuel.

Philippians 2:6-11:

“Jesus, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Austin Muckenthaler is a member of the Overland Park Campus where he and his wife, Annie, have served as high school small group leaders since 2015. Austin is passionate about apologetics and preparing students to “give an answer to everyone who asks them to give a reason for the hope that they have; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)

[1] Matthew 1:23

[2] Romans 3:23, 6:23

[3] Romans 5:8, Hebrews 12:2

[4] Isaiah 53:2-6, Hebrews 4:15

[5] Psalm 34:18

[6] Romans 8:28, Revelation 21:3-5