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No Suffering Is Unseen: Why Our Secret Pain Really Matters

What is the use of suffering in oblivion?

That question has haunted me for years. I wondered if there was any purpose in the days, months, and even decades of pain that no one witnessed. My suffering was not neat and tidy, with a clear beginning, a short duration and a clear purpose. It continued until I was tempted to give up hope and rage against my circumstances. I wondered if my loyalty was meaningless. I assumed that my personal response to suffering was ultimately unimportant.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

“In fact, our suffering is never private, because everything we do and say is watched by the invisible world.”

I have since learned that our personal suffering, far from being insignificant, has enormous significance, with far-reaching, eternal consequences. In fact, our suffering is never private, because everything we do and say is watched by the invisible world, a world of angels and demons, of powers and principalities, of a great cloud of witnesses and our triune God himself . While this may sound unnerving to some, knowing that we are surrounded by all these invisible spectators has inspired me to continue working through my own pain.

The watching (unseen) world

I may feel like no one sees or knows what I’m going through, but in reality we are all on a giant battlefield, with angels and demons craning their necks to see what they can learn about God through us. They watch to see how God helps us, how his presence dispels our fears, and how he inspires our worship. Our lives are on full display. This is not a science fiction fantasy or a comforting myth meant to ease our pain and loneliness. No, the stunning truth that we are constantly being watched is firmly established in the Bible.

We know that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1), including “watchmen,” heavenly beings, who see what is happening on earth (Daniel 4:13, 17). Satan also watches us and accuses us before God (Zechariah 3:1; Revelation 12:10), just as he did with Job (Job 1:6-12), while his fallen angels, “the spiritual powers of evil in the heavenly places,” carry out his plans (Ephesians 6:12). Satan wants us to doubt God’s goodness and believe that God’s worth is tied to the material blessings He gives. So when we praise God in the midst of trials, we show Satan and his demons the greatness and worth of the God they rejected.

Many of the heavenly beings are angels who watch us closely, and God sends them in answer to our prayers (Daniel 9:21-23), often surrounding us in a protection we cannot see (2 Kings 6 :17; Psalm 34:7). ). They rejoice when sinners are converted (Luke 15:10) and look intently into our lives to understand the mysteries of God (1 Peter 1:12).

I first heard about John Piper’s focus on the invisible world when he unpacked the book of Job and emphasized how Job’s faithful response demonstrated God’s value to the heavenly realms. I saw that my response to suffering mattered – not just to me, but because a watching world (a world I cannot see or hear) waited to see how I would respond to trials. My life is for God’s glory, and when I find satisfaction in God rather than in His gifts, I am highlighting God’s value to a vast, invisible audience. And that spotlight shines even brighter when I’m in pain, or too exhausted to move, or feel enveloped in a deathly numbness and still choose to praise God.

Showing wisdom to heaven

Ephesians 3:10 beautifully underlines this truth. God’s grace was given to Paul to preach the riches of Christ and the mystery of the gospel “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” This means that through the church, through you and me, God’s wisdom is made known to the heavenly realms. The angels and demons learn about God by seeing how we respond to oppression.

Charles Spurgeon gives us a moving picture of how the angels learn through us:

As each day brings us our daily bread, so each day in heaven brings the daily theme of wonder, and the angels receive new amounts of knowledge from the ever new experiences of the people of God. They lean today from the battlements of heaven to gaze upon you, ye tried believers; They look into your furnace, like the king of Babylon, and they see the fourth man with you, like the Son of God. They follow you, O children of Israel, into the wilderness; they see the places of your encampment and the land whither you hasten; and as they mark the fiery cloudy pillar that leads you and the angel of God’s house that leads the van and brings up the rear, they discover the wonderful wisdom of God every step of the way. (‘Another and a nobler exhibition’)

As the unseen world watches us, they see God’s grace sustaining us, His power delivering us, and His comfort encouraging us. They see us bless God in sickness and in health, and they witness God’s manifold wisdom as He uses everything in our lives for good. With all these spectators, our wedding has a cosmic impact. We shake the universe by choosing to bless God in the midst of trials, showing that God is truly our treasure, even now, and that he is worthy of worship.

We never suffer alone

Joni Eareckson Tada demonstrates this reality better than anyone. She once said to me in an interview, “When I have pain at night, I think of Ephesians 3:10, and I remember a lot of people watching. They observe me. I want my life to be the blackboard on which God writes these incredible lessons about himself. I don’t want to do anything to discredit God or make him seem untrustworthy.”

At the True Woman 2010 conference, she reiterated that idea, saying, “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been able to keep going because I know my life is on display.” We do not suffer in vain, and we never suffer alone. . . . My response to hardship is never isolated. It’s not true that no one cares or notices. The stakes are high and God’s reputation is at stake. It is all for the glory of God.”

As Joni reminds us, we can choose every day to demonstrate the surpassing worth of Christ to the unseen watching world. We can glorify God when we are wrongly accused and choose to respond with grace. When we worry about a loved one and choose not to be afraid. When we are afflicted with physical or emotional pain and choose to praise God through our tears. These choices all matter because a heavenly host is watching.

Your suffering really matters

Although we have the honor of proclaiming the greatness of our God to the universe, sometimes we feel too broken or weak to care. Suffering has exhausted us, and we need the comfort of Christ’s love, knowing that He has engraved our name on the palms of His nail-covered hands (Isaiah 49:16). He watches over us lovingly.

“The angels and demons come to know God by seeing how we respond to oppression.”

Jesus knows when we sit and when we stand up, knows our every thought and every word even before we speak it (Psalm 139:1-4). He sees our silent suffering, draws near to us in it, and always intercedes for us (Romans 8:34). He prays that we may persevere through the pain and ensure that our faith will not fail. He is always with us (Matthew 28:20), and if we are faithful unto death, we can see Jesus standing in heaven to welcome us (Acts 7:55).

In heaven we will receive a reward for our faithfulness. A reward tied to what we have endured, because we are sure that our suffering on earth will produce something, preparing for us an unimaginable weight of glory that we will one day experience (2 Corinthians 4:17).

So don’t believe the lie that your suffering doesn’t matter, that no one is watching and that your loyalty has no meaning. Although it may seem like you are suffering alone in a dark room, you are actually standing on a huge stage with countless eyewitnesses. And the stakes are higher than you think. So press on. Fight with joy. Stay faithful. Our lives are on display.