In my last post, I talked about finding strength for the task that God gives us. This post will touch on the subject of finding meaning through suffering.
The verses that made such an impression on me regarding these two subjects are found in Matthew 17:
But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
Matthew 17:7-8 (ESV)
This problem of suffering is like a box that I periodically get down from its dusty shelf to examine from all angles. Eventually I give up and shove it back for a while, maybe even cover it up with a couple old sweaters. There’s so much I don’t understand about pain and evil in the world.
The greatest thinkers of all time have talked at length about this difficulty. I’ve read their books over the years–Cries of the Heart by Ravi Zacharias, The Problem of Pain by CS Lewis, Where is God When it Hurts by Philip Yancy. (I even read When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold S. Kushner, but I do not recommend that you read it. It’s depressing and I don’t agree with his view of God.) Gaining an intellectual perspective can be helpful to form a framework of how the world works.
But intellect can’t answer all the questions of the heart. Oh I know, I like smart solutions that take no emotional energy. I’m uncomfortable with finding a less-than-rational answer. But it simply doesn’t work to reason ourselves out of feeling pain. And I wonder if this is because the answer to our suffering cannot be adequately formulated by the mind.
I believe the answer to our suffering lies in having an encounter with God. When I am brave enough to peel back the layers, I discover that the greatest pain of all lurks underneath–the pain of feeling abandoned by God.
Isn’t that what Job experienced? Yes, he lost his family and all he owned. But worse than that, he felt betrayed by God. The only way for him to make peace with his pain was to fume at God and to hear God respond to him. What redeemed Job’s pain in the end–a new family and set of possessions? No, Job’s most precious reward was being able to talk heart-to-heart with God.
Admittedly, this way of viewing life leaves us in limbo at times, waiting for God to show up in our dark places. Our hearts can feel broken for a while before we experience God’s redemption. This is where faith comes into play; faith that the waiting will not be vain, and that God will show up and meet our need.
Oswald Chambers echoes this in My Utmost for His Highest: “When God gets us alone through suffering, heartbreak, temptation, disappointment, sickness, or by thwarted desires, a broken friendship–when He gets us absolutely alone, and we are totally speechless, unable to ask even one question, then He begins to teach us.”
I remember the night many years ago when I crouched on the floor of a tiny prayer room at Calvary Bible School, crying so hard I thought I would die. I didn’t see God as someone who loved me personally, and I felt a lot of fear about His presence. Being consumed by emotional pain, I prayed, “God, do you love me? Please tell me if you love me.”
The next morning I sat in chapel, my face still puffy from weeping the night before. The speaker got up and said, “I feel there is someone here who needs to be reassured of God’s love. So I want to tell you, God loves you! He loves you! He loves YOU!”
And that was the beginning of a healing road for me. Once I knew God wanted to love me and talk to me, I could come to Jesus with my fear and start dealing with the mess in my heart. As Tim Keller once said, “Jesus took away the kind of suffering that can really destroy you: that is being cast away from God.”
Even though I would like more intellectual answers, I have seen God’s glory through seasons of suffering. I have experienced His presence, and in faith I can say that it is enough to see Jesus only, to feel His touch, and to hear Him say, “Have no fear.”
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face;
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.
Have you encountered God during seasons of suffering? How did it change you?