No Suffering Is Unseen

Why Our Secret Pain Really Matters

What is the point of suffering in obscurity?

That question haunted me for years. I wondered if there was any purpose to the days, months, and even decades of pain that no one witnessed. My suffering wasn’t neat and tidy, with a definite beginning, a short duration, and a clear purpose. It dragged on till I was tempted to give up hope and to rage against my circumstances. I questioned whether my faithfulness was pointless. I assumed my private response to suffering was ultimately inconsequential.

Nothing could have been further from the truth.

“Our suffering is, in fact, never private, because everything we do and say is being watched by the unseen world.”

I’ve since learned that, instead of being insignificant, our private suffering carries massive significance, with far-reaching, eternal consequences. Our suffering is, in fact, never private, because everything we do and say is being watched by the unseen 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 we’re surrounded by all these unseen spectators has inspired me to press on 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 battleground, where angels and demons are craning their necks to see what they can learn about God through us. They are watching 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 isn’t sci-fi fantasy or some reassuring myth designed to ease our pain and loneliness. No, the stunning truth that we are constantly being watched is firmly grounded in Scripture.

We know we’re surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1), which includes “watchers,” heavenly beings, who see what is happening on earth (Daniel 4:13, 17). Satan is also watching us, accusing us before God (Zechariah 3:1; Revelation 12:10), as he did Job (Job 1:6–12), while his fallen angels, “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” carry out his schemes (Ephesians 6:12). Satan wants us to doubt God’s goodness and to believe that God’s value is tied to the material blessings he gives. So, when we bless God in the midst of trial, we are showing 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 response to our prayers (Daniel 9:21–23), often encircling us in a protection we cannot see (2 Kings 6:17; Psalm 34:7). They rejoice when sinners repent (Luke 15:10) and peer intently into our lives to understand the mysteries of God (1 Peter 1:12).

I first heard about the unseen world’s attention from John Piper when he unpacked the book of Job and highlighted how Job’s faithful response demonstrated the value of God to the heavenly realms. I saw that my response to suffering mattered — not just for me, but because a watching world (a world that I can neither see nor hear) was waiting to see how I would respond to trials. My life is for God’s glory, and when I find contentment in God rather than in his gifts, I am spotlighting God’s worth to an immense, invisible audience. And that spotlight shines even brighter when I’m racked with pain, or too exhausted to move, or feeling enveloped by a deadening numbness and still choose to praise God.

Displaying Wisdom to the Heavens

Ephesians 3:10 beautifully underscores 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 through watching us respond to affliction.

Charles Spurgeon gives us a stirring picture of how the angels are learning through us:

As every day brings to us our daily bread, so every day brings to heaven its daily theme of wonder, and the angels receive fresh stores of knowledge from the ever-new experience of the people of God. They lean from the battlements of heaven today to gaze on you, ye tried believers; they look into your furnace as did the King of Babylon, and they see the fourth man with you like unto the Son of God. They track you, O ye children of Israel in the wilderness; they see the places of your encampment and the land to which you are hastening; and as they mark the fiery cloudy pillar that conducts you and the angel of God’s house that leads the van and brings up the rear, they discover in every step of the way the wonderful wisdom of God. (“Another and a Nobler Exhibition”)

As the unseen world watches us, they see God’s grace sustain us, his power deliver us, and his comfort encourage 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 watchers, our faithfulness has a cosmic impact. We shake the universe by choosing to bless God in the midst of trial, showing that God really is our treasure, even now, and that he’s worthy of worship.

We Never Suffer Alone

Joni Eareckson Tada demonstrates this reality better than anyone I know. She once said to me in an interview, “I think about Ephesians 3:10 when I’m in pain at night, and I remember a great many somebodies are watching. They are observing me. I want my life to be the blackboard upon which God chalks these incredible lessons about himself. I don’t want to do anything to defame God or make him look 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 press on because I know my life is on display. We don’t suffer for nothing, and we never suffer alone. . . . My response to hardship is never isolated. It is not true that no one cares or notices. The stakes are high, and God’s reputation is on the line. It’s all for God’s glory.”

As Joni reminds us, every day we can choose to show the surpassing value of Christ to the unseen watching world. We can glorify God when we are unfairly accused and choose to respond with grace. When we are worried about a loved one and choose not to fear. When we are racked 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

While 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 worn us down, and we need the comfort of Christ’s love, knowing he has engraved our name on the palms of his nail-scarred hands (Isaiah 49:16). He is tenderly watching over us.

“The angels and demons learn about God through watching us respond to affliction.”

Jesus knows when we sit and when we rise, knows our every thought and every word even before we speak it (Psalm 139:1–4). He sees our silent suffering, is drawing near to us in it, and is ever interceding for us (Romans 8:34). He is praying for us to persevere through the pain, making sure our faith will not fail. He is with us always (Matthew 28:20), and as we are faithful unto death, we may 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’ve endured, since we are assured our suffering on earth is producing 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 there’s no point to your faithfulness. While it may seem like you’re suffering alone in a dark room, you’re actually on an enormous stage with innumerable eyewitnesses. And the stakes are higher than you think. So press on. Fight with joy. Remain faithful. Our lives are on display.