“I am overwhelmed with troubles and my life draws near to death,” says the Psalmist. “From my youth I have suffered … darkness is my closest friend” (Psalm 88:3,15,18).
“All things are full of weariness,” declares the aging King Solomon, “a man cannot utter it” (Ecclesiastes 1:8, ESV). “Mortals, born of woman, are of few days and full of trouble,” states Job in his despair (Job 14:1).
“In this world,” confirms the Lord Jesus Christ, “you will have trouble” (John 16:33).
This week, these verses have especial resonance for the Christian communities of south-eastern Turkey and northern Syria, who are among the many victims of a 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck this region on 6 February.
The earthquake has caused suffering for people of all beliefs and backgrounds. There have been more than 10,000 confirmed deaths. Modelling suggests that the total number of fatalities could be more than 30,000. The World Health Organisation has estimated that 23 million people have been affected.
Yet for our Christian brothers and sisters, the earthquake represents the latest chapter in a history of suffering that has lasted for generations.
Between 1893 and 1923, an estimated 3.75 million Christians were killed in the Armenian, Assyrian, Greek and Syriac genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire. Countless others suffered abuse and trauma; millions were displaced. Many of these Christians lived in the same area of south-eastern Turkey that was struck this week by the earthquake. Many of the genocide survivors fled to northern Syria and settled in Aleppo, creating a substantial Christian community there. This is the part of Syria that has been most devastated by the earthquake.
The Christians who remained in Turkey after the genocide have continually suffered persecution and discrimination. Those who fled to northern Syria have suffered more than a decade of civil war, bombing campaigns by the Turkish armed forces, and the despotic rule of Islamic State (IS, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh), among many other hardships.
How much suffering can one community endure? Yet even in the midst of such darkness the comfort remains that the Lord Himself has entered into and shared the suffering of His people, emerging victorious.
“In this world you will have trouble,” He says. “But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).