Christ, Our Light
A reader emailed me recently and asked me to do a post on “seeing God when all hope is lost, when it seems that God has abandoned you” in the midst of suffering. After thought and prayer, this post is my response.
The big question, the one that has plagued theologians and philosophers alike for millennia, is one that each person still asks today:
Why is there suffering?
Why do we experience pain? Why are people starving in the world? Why are people homeless? Why are people sad and depressed? And, along with this, there comes another question:
Where is God in all of this?
How can God allow suffering, if He really is all-good and all-loving? How can God sit by and watch innocent people suffer? Does He have a plan for all of this pain?
I can’t answer any of those questions.
I can’t tell you why people suffer so greatly, why God allows it, or what the big grand master plan is behind all of it. If I could answer those questions, believe me…I would. Instead, what I want to offer here is something of a reflection — food for thought, you might say.
Whenever I’m going through a hard time I, like most people, ask “Why is this happening to me?”. I was reflecting on that as I was preparing to write this post, and I realized something that I had never considered before. When I’m hurting, when I’m suffering, I don’t want someone to sit there and give me a well thought out argument that explains why I’m going through these difficulties. In fact, I’d probably punch anyone who did that because they would have no idea what I was going through. They would just be sitting there trying to draw some logical conclusions that had nothing to do with my situation and, in the end, would solve absolutely nothing. No, what I really want when I’m suffering is for someone to listen and enter into that suffering with me in some way. I want someone to sit there with me and help me through the hard times. I want someone to cry with me when I feel like I can’t go on. I want someone to listen with love and compassion when I talk about what I’m going through because I just can’t bear to hold all of the pain in my heart anymore.
The Book of Job is probably one of the most well-known books in the Bible. It tells the story of a just man, Job, who suddenly finds himself in the midst of great suffering. His home is gone, his family members die, his cattle are gone, and he loses the respect of his neighbors. He asks throughout the book why he is suffering so greatly when he has done nothing wrong. His friends insist that it must be because Job has somehow sinned against God and his suffering serves as punishment for the evil he did, but Job maintains his innocence and demands an audience with God. And at the end of the book, he gets it — God speaks to Job.
You would think that God would offer an explanation, give some kind of grand answer to the problem of innocent suffering. Nope. Not even close. In fact, God points out that Job ought not to challenge Him because it was He who created the world with all its wonders. Job repents and his possessions are restored, more plentiful than they were before his troubles began. The Book of Job makes some suggestions about suffering, such as the possibility that the mystery of suffering leads us deeper into the mystery of God, but it draws no conclusions and offers no definitive answers.
Before, during, and after the writing of the Book of Job, people asked why the innocent are allowed to suffer, why there is suffering at all in the world. God never gives us an answer to that question in Scripture. Not once. But you know, I think He gives us something better than an end-all-be-all response.
He gives us His Son.
We never get a divine justification for the existence of suffering. Instead, God Himself takes on our human nature and personally enters into human suffering in the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ. Rather than offer us a cold, logical argument to justify suffering, Christ “came down from Heaven” and experienced hunger, poverty, rejection, and intense physical suffering.
I would rather have the Cross any day over a philosophical or theological explanation for suffering. I would rather know that God Himself knows what my suffering is like, that He Himself has suffered as I do and that He understands how hard it is for me to go on in the midst of my pain. I would rather know that God has entered into my human misery and taken it on Himself, that He loved me enough to subject Himself to torture.
Where is God in the midst of suffering? He is there with the orphan. He is standing beside the homeless man with the cardboard sign. He is there starving with the hungry masses. He is crying with the woman who just lost her job. His Heart is breaking with the heart of the woman who is suffering after an abortion. He is sitting in the room next to the lonely man in the hospital. He is hurting with the person who suffers from depression. He is suffering with the one who is rejected by society. He is there with YOU in the midst of YOUR suffering. That is where God can be found when people are in pain — right there with them, because He knows what it is to suffer. He understands the pain, He sees the suffering we are dealing with in the depths of our hearts, and He desires to shoulder our burden with us. He desires to enter into YOUR suffering with you, to help make the burden bearable. He offers us His shoulder to cry on, and His Heart to pour our troubles into.
The reader who emailed me with this question mentioned that she has been going through a very difficult time lately and that, in her suffering, she asked “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”. We all tend to echo these words from the psalmist, but we forget to read the entirety of this Psalm. Here it is (Psalm 22):
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why so far from my call for help, from my cries of anguish? My God, I call by day, but you do not answer; by night, but I have no relief. Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the glory of Israel. In you our fathers trusted they trusted and you rescued them. To you they cried out and they escaped; in you they trusted and were not disappointed. But I am a worm, not a man; scorned by men, despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they curl their lips and jeer; they shake their heads at me: “He relied on the LORD—let him deliver him; if he loves him, let him rescue him.” For you drew me forth from the womb, made me safe at my mother’s breasts. Upon you I was thrust from the womb; since my mother bore me you are my God. Do not stay far from me, for trouble is near, and there is no one to help.
Many bulls surround me; fierce bulls of Bashan encircle me. They open their mouths against me, lions that rend and roar. Like water my life drains away; all my bones are disjointed. My heart has become like wax, it melts away within me. As dry as a potsherd is my throat; my tongue cleaves to my palate; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs surround me; a pack of evildoers closes in on me. They have pierced my hands and my feet I can count all my bones. They stare at me and gloat; they divide my garments among them; for my clothing they cast lots. But you, LORD, do not stay far off; my strength, come quickly to help me. Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the grip of the dog. Save me from the lion’s mouth, my poor life from the horns of wild bulls.
Then I will proclaim your name to my brethren; in the assembly I will praise you: “You who fear the LORD, give praise! All descendants of Jacob, give honor; show reverence, all descendants of Israel! For he has not spurned or disdained the misery of this poor wretch, Did not turn away from me, but heard me when I cried out. I will offer praise in the great assembly; my vows I will fulfill before those who fear him. The poor will eat their fill; those who seek the LORD will offer praise. May your hearts enjoy life forever!”
All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD; All the families of nations will bow low before him. For kingship belongs to the LORD, the ruler over the nations. All who sleep in the earth will bow low before God; All who have gone down into the dust will kneel in homage. And I will live for the LORD; my descendants will serve you. The generation to come will be told of the Lord, that they may proclaim to a people yet unborn the deliverance you have brought.
This Psalm begins in a pretty dark way, doesn’t it? “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”, the psalmist cries. Yet, in the midst of his pain, the psalmist remembers that his ancestors trusted in God and were delivered from their pain — he trusts that God will do the same for him. He goes on to discuss the many ways in which he is suffering and asks God to come quickly to his aid. Psalm 22 ends in hope, not despair. “For he [God] has not spurned or disdained the misery of this poor wretch [the psalmist], did not turn away from me, but heard me when I cried out.” The psalmist is completely confident that God has the power to save him, that God will enter into his suffering and deliver him.
We must have that same faith and trust in God. We must trust that He is always with us, even in the midst of horrible suffering. We must have faith that He will endure this suffering with us, that He will help to make our pain bearable, and that He will ultimately deliver us from our pain.
When we are suffering, Christ is there with us. He cries with us, hurts with us — His Heart breaks with ours. He is not deaf to our cries, and nor is He indifferent towards our pain. He enters into it with us and desires to bear some part of it alongside us. Our Lord never promised that we would never suffer, but He does promise to be with us in joys and in sufferings. He is our hope in the midst of despair, our salvation when all is lost, our comfort in the trials of this life, and our light in the overwhelming darkness.
Posted on November 14, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged christ our light, dealing with suffering, my god my god, my god my god why have you abandoned me, psalm 22, suffering, suffering christian, where is god in suffering, why is there suffering. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.