Jesus would usually connect with people through their struggles, questions, and longings. Jesus did not run away from sin and suffering – He drew close to overcome them. He met with a woman at a well in John 4, connected with her (through the heat of the day and the need for water), led her to the topic of sin and who He truly is, and then empowered her to be an emissary of hope to her village. In John 9 Jesus healed a man born blind. The man was called to give an account to the religious leaders – and shared his story of how Jesus healed his pain. He even invited the religious leaders to become disciples of Jesus! They expelled him from the synagogue (more suffering), but the man found Jesus and worshiped Him, becoming His disciple. The healing of Christ caused more suffering for this man – which led to even greater faith and growth.
Jesus connected sin and pain (Mark 2:5-11). Pain is in the world because of selfish choices, and pain is often at the root of our selfishness (there is a cycle of pride and pain, sin and suffering). This does not mean we can attribute all suffering to a person’s choices – Jesus specifically said that the man was not born blind because of any sin, but so that the power of God would be seen in him (John 9:3; cf. Job). (It is often helpful to guide people past the question, “Why does God allow pain and sin?” to the question, “How has God overcome human sin and pain?”) Jesus suffered and died because of sin. The painful death of Jesus is what brought the forgiveness of all sin, and Jesus overcame death and pain in the resurrection (Jesus breaks the cycle). Jesus lived and proclaimed this “resurrection reality” as the Kingdom of God – where people are true children of God, demons flee, true community is formed, pain is healed, and people are gifted to join Jesus in the work of bringing in new creation (see Rev 21:4. Jesus was full of joy (John 10:10) and was part of the party (Matt 11:9; John 2:1), but also identified with the poor and hungry (Luke 6:20; 9:58) and spoke out against injustice (Matt 23). Jesus slowed down and had time to listen to people.
Jesus extended forgiveness and healing that would personally cause Him pain: He would suffer on the cross for the sins He had forgiven. Isaiah 53:3-4 says that the Messiah would be a “man of sorrows” who would “take up our pain and bear our sorrows”. Jesus came not only to take away our sins, but also to overcome our pain. Christ’s method of overcoming pain is to embrace the way of pain for the sake of the world. He passed on this way to His followers (“take up your cross daily” Luke 9:23; “turn the other cheek” Luke 6:29). We are to identify with the sin and suffering of the world, to give Him our pain and sin, and the suffering that comes from the selfishness of others, to stop our selfish ways and work for justice in the world even when people hurt us.
Pain and sin are not gone from our hearts or from the world, but we have His power to overcome. Suffering with Christ actually can work for a Christian (reversing the cycle so a person lives for healing and justice). Hard times can grow a person closer to Christ and produce perseverance and character as he or she works with God (Rom 8:28; James 1:2-3; 1 Peter 1:6-7). Evangelism is sharing the strength and hope that come from the cross and resurrection of Jesus – pain and sin can be overcome.
Jesus is the hope of the world. The world is suffering and full of problems – some from selfish choices, and some from the selfish choices of others. Jesus did not disconnect from the problems of people, and neither should the church. The church needs to be a place where pain is healed and overcome in Christ. Christians also need to be willing to suffer for the sake of the world – to continue to break the cycle of selfishness and suffering with sacrificial love. Perhaps the reason that Christians have not gone into the world is because it is full of suffering! This is our own form of selfishness that ignores the suffering of the world. We need the strength of Christ to truly do evangelism. If we are to give encouragement to people, we need to have our own source of encouragement. This comes from a deep relationship and significant daily time with Jesus. He is offering the whole world His strength and hope to overcome.
 Kazoh Kitamori, a Japanese theologian writing after World War II, describes God as a God of pain – God is not distant but hurts more than we do. He “embraced those who should not be embraced” – us, the objects of His wrath. God connects to us in our pain. God has made peace with the pain that is inside of Himself, and the pain that we cause Him. Theology of the Pain of God (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1958), p.22. His method of evangelism is to serve through pain; our pain can draw us closer to Him; our pain is a testimony to God’s pain and love (p.52).
 The misinterpretation of this verse has led to the false idea that God is the cause of every action or that every action is part of God’s plan. God does not cause sin or selfishness, and evil is not a part of God’s plan. This false understanding of Romans 8:28 is very prominent in our culture, and it causes many questions and doubts about the goodness of God.
Pain can have a purpose and be part of God’s bigger plan. In Genesis, Joseph is the main example of this principle (Gen 50:20). This does not mean that God caused Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery (God could have found a different way to save the family). It means God can take evil intended against us and use it for good.
We also need to remember that some pain seems to have no purpose: Job didn’t know about the conversation in heaven; James the brother of John is beheaded by Herod (Acts 12:2). Jesus lived in the moments of grief with people and wept (John 11:35); His disciples today do well when they follow this example.
Romans 8:28 is teaching that God can cause all things – even evil and hurtful things – to work with those who are working with God. The key word is “work together” (Greek synergei). For those that love God, He can cause even evil things to work for their good. This is the overcoming power of the cross and resurrection.
 Rodney Stark writes that Christianity in the Roman Empire had power because the Christians were willing to practically care for each other and the poor; they even stayed in the cities when plagues would happen. The Rise of Christianity (New York: Harper Collins, 1997). Kitamori says that the Church is Christ’s Body and the place where the pain of God is borne in the world (Theology of the Pain of God, p.120).