The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look on it and live.” Numbers 21:7-8
When the snakes infested the Israelites in the desert, they asked for God to take the snakes away. It is noteworthy that instead of taking the snakes away, God gives them a way to heal from snake bites. The snakes, and their bites, are like our suffering. For some reason, just like God didn’t take away the snakes, God does not take away our suffering but gives us a way through them towards our healing.
Like it or not, suffering seems to be the process by which we are purified. In times of suffering, we become keenly aware of God’s presence (through his comfort). We also become aware of His absence, which is really not his absence but merely our inability to feel or sense Him.
Jesus’ suffering on the cross connects us most to Him. Out of all of His action and words, his suffering on the cross for us is what gives us the most impact and draws us near to Him. If Jesus had said and done everything the same during His life, except He died of old age or He was shot by a firing squad (without the suffering of torture), I don’t think He would have had the same impact on us today. It’s not just that Jesus died for us; it is HOW he died and what He endured that speaks most loudly to our hearts.
Suffering is the path that strips us of all that is unimportant and draws us closer to God. Perhaps that is why God allows suffering and doesn’t wipe it out. In the healing of our suffering, our relationship with God , and our dependence on Him, becomes more complete. Perhaps this is why God didn’t take away the snakes in response to the Israelites prayer, but rather God provided the antidote, just as He does today.