How does suffering shape (or not shape) our view and experience of God?
As human beings, our natural wiring makes it hard to imagine a good God who also “allows” suffering.
Today, I am exploring why the presence of pain does not mean the absence of God and what that means for you and I.
I’ve battled chronic pain and it’s resulting disruption the last twenty-eight months and I’ve learned – and I am still learning – how God shows up in my low moments.
If your life or marriage is at a hard place (because we typically talk about marriage around here), I hope you gain a new perspective and feel encouraged.
Let’s dive right in
1. Pain happens.
And He’s present. Always.
2. God is not turned off by questions.
Often, we think asking questions shows a lack of faith on our part. Since most Christians prefer to skip that faithless train, they feel it’s holier not to voice the tempest in our heads.
However, I have learned that questions can actually bring us closer to Him. Ultimately, from hindsight, we begin to see how He grew us and comforted us through those valley lows. As a result, our faith is deepened in profound ways.
While it might sound strange to some, sometimes it’s the questions that keep the communication channels open between God and His child (you and me).
When you are feeling overwhelmed, when the pain in your body doesn’t allow for “spiritual” words to form in your mind, honesty is the only thing you got.
I learned it’s better to voice my worries to God than have them silently run amok in my soul.
When Jesus anguished about the path to the cross, He did not keep quiet about the agony plaguing his human soul. He cried out to His Father for a different path for the redemption of humankind. (Luke 22:42)
When He was hanging on the cross, beaten, bloodied, and completely abandoned, He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”. Matthew 27:46
Jesus talked to His Father in His deepest moments of grief and questions. In my deepest agonies and questions, it’s to my benefit to do likewise.
3. I am healed, even when I don’t look it.
For me, the difficult part of suffering has been remembering that Jesus didn’t forget about me 2,000 years ago: I was part of that “it is finished.” ( John 19:30)
The redemptive healing work of the cross is done. Whether the pain goes away today, tomorrow, or when I finally see Him face to face, it doesn’t change the past-tense.
The realization gives me hope. It reminds me God is good and His plans are good. He doesn’t lie. Provision for my healing is here.
God has never lost a battle and since I belong to Him, everything I go through somehow fits (or is redeemed to fit) His plan for my life.
When it looks, or feels like I am losing, I can sink in and cling to His bigger plan.
This season has taught me to find hope in redemption.
The story of mankind as we know it now ends with a final redemption; a gathering of a ransomed humanity to its Savior Christ Jesus, where there is no pain or sorrow (Revelation 21:4)
The smaller stories of our lives here on earth point to the larger story of the life to come in heaven. This life in this fallen world isn’t all there is. Something better is coming.
This hope of something better reminds us there is a God who works it all out for good. A God who has a bigger plan and Who will help us stay close to Him when we don’t understand.
The larger story of redemption reminds us to receive His comfort here, as we are “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” Titus 2:13
4. Suffering isn’t primarily so you can help others.
It’s so you can be helped. One of the last things a suffering person wants to hear is “think about how your pain will bear a big testimony! Think about how it will impact your ministry!”
Certainly, people in distress need a reminder about how God uses everything for His plan.
But oh man.
If I were going through this just for others, it would be so wrong. (Being honest y’all.)
However, when it’s about me and what’s happening in me, first, then it can make sense.
God doesn’t use people in the sense we think He does; we are not just a means to His end (though we are instruments.) God cares about us as His children (Matthew 6:9, John 1:12) He sees us.
When we remove the compassion of God to the sufferer, we make Him a heartless utilitarian God.
Which explains, in part, why many people blame Him for all things gone wrong and never credit Him with everything going right.
We need an overhaul of belief so we can see how God is personal and involved and how He longs for us to experience His comfort and nearness in pain.
5. Suffering can help others.
But rarely in the sense we think it will.
What suffering does is birth compassion and flexibility we wouldn’t easily have, otherwise.
And out of that shredding of our soul and reshaping of our view of God, He builds something new.
Without profound individual transformation, helping others isn’t relevant.
Luke 22:32 records the words of Jesus to Peter, one of his disciples.
“I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:32
Here, we see Jesus praying for Peter, not the ministry that would come out of his season of struggle. The “strengthening of his brothers” would be a result of Peter encountering God in a deeper way.
He cares about the individual, not just what He will do through the individual.
6. Balancing faith and medicinal science can be hard.
Not for everyone, but it sure has been hard for me.
Seeking and then listening to confident doctors tell you what they think is wrong with your body, sifting through gazillion medical opinions, submitting to a bazillion tests, trying out tons of pharma regimens left me exhausted and freaked out.
I have desired to keep my faith, but the medical process and symptoms try to bleed it out.
So I’ve learned to be attentive to the Holy Spirit. To do my own research. To advocate for myself, even when it feels stupid and useless.
I’ve found the deepest comfort in my most confusing and trying times – this delicate balance of “reality” Vs. “substance of things hoped for, evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1’s description of faith)
I love science and appreciate all the modern medical advance we’ve made. However, I have learned the importance of keeping my eyes on God, not on man. Because a time always comes when the bottom falls out, and only God can rescue or make sense of it all.
7. You learn to keep your hope in Christ, no matter the circumstances.
Suffering scraps out the depths of your soul; it can re-redefine who you are: allow our great Redeemer in to those terribly broken places.
Because it’s so real, affliction can affect our worship, our attitudes, our view of God, our intimacy with God.
It becomes the silent record playing at the back of our minds, weaving into every interaction we have with our Maker, interrupting, and clouding our judgment on God’s provision.
Pain is real, and that fact makes it hard to rise above it.
When I was finally able to go to church, we sang a song I had not heard before. The whole song is amazing, but this part spoke to me.
Oh I will sing like a man
With no sickness in my body
Like no prison walls can hold me
I will sing like I am free
‘Cause I know You love me
I know You found me
I know You saved me
And Your grace will never fail me
And while I’m waiting
I’m not waiting
I know heaven lives in me
Song: As It Is In Heaven. Artist: Hillsong
God began to set free my view of Him that had been distorted by my chronic pain.
I began to see the the sacredness and wonder of being a complete wreck and finding God there.
Over the next several weeks, I started to feel like a bird, set free to soar above the storm.
The storm was very present, but I was no longer held captive by its turns and waves. In fact, its very presence seemed to enhance my awareness of God.
Perhaps this is the freedom Paul spoke of in 2 Corinthians 12 when he wrote
“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:8, 9, 10b ESV
8. Suffering saves your soul
- It reminds you of your limits.
It forces you to listen to your body, to depose those little kings called productivity and chasing success (or whatever other must-haves circle your world.) Nothing wrong with being productive. But it can be an idol.
- It allows God to fill up your emptiness.
I hesitate to say this because oh, how I love my ease and comfort. But suffering pierces our defenses and forces us to accept the provision of God. We don’t know how self-sufficient we are until we are out of rope and can’t save ourselves.
- Suffering humbles you.
When you finally can’t do it all, you accept just how limited you are. And how much you don’t control. And how much you need others.
- It reorganizes your priorities.
Previously I needed to do a bunch of things to feel like I am living a good productive life. But as it happens, good always gets in the way of better. Not being able to do a bunch of things reminds me to focus on one or two things that God presently requires of me.
- It’s taught me grace.
Because people say all kinds of things when they don’t know what to say. I also have giant expectations on others which they cannot met: grace and forgiveness has carried me and those that I love.
God is enough
When I first shared about my journey with chronic pain months ago, I had only began to realize that perhaps my season of pain was not to prayed or believed away as quickly as I wanted.
With much trepidation, I had begun to accept that maybe (God? Life?) had other plans that did not include quick relief.
Nonetheless, God has been enough.
And I’ve been thinking perhaps the point of everything, of life really, is to learn how enough He is.
Maybe, to truly grasp His enough-ness, I have to max out my strength and feel my limitations.
Over and over again.
Question – Are you in a trying season of life? What has suffering taught you about God? What point resonated the most? Let’s talk in Comments