I have had a lot of candid conversations recently, profanity included. Those who know me know cursing is not a habit of mine. But sometimes, there are no other words to describe the stuff of life. Consider Aleppo. The slaughter that is happening there deserves the worst profanities known to man. Consider the deepest pains in your own heart. That pain does not deserve censoring. I was so angry at my own personal situation yesterday that I started hitting things . . . and bruised my hand in the process. Yep, at twenty-four years old, I threw a temper tantrum.
And ended it icing my hand with a bag of frozen fruit.
I don’t trust God. He does not seem like a good Father to me, as He chooses suffering to be the primary tool to bring people to Himself and to bring glory to His name. I resent the evils that He allows. I despise the things that don’t make sense.
Why must anyone suffer? Why are there no limits to the intensity of pain people can experience in this life?
My dad recently sent me this profound excerpt from a Phillip Yancey book entitled The Bible Jesus Read (208 – 9):
Job reluctantly concluded that, no, God could not care about him or about other suffering people. “How faint the whisper we hear of him,” sighed Job. The psalmists cried out for some sign that God heard their prayers, some evidence that God had not forsaken them. I know of only one way to answer the question, “does God care?” and for me it has proved decisive: Jesus is the answer.
Jesus never attempted a philosophical answer to the problem of pain, yet he did give an existential answer. Although I cannot learn from him why a particular bad thing occurs, I can learn how God feels about it. Jesus gives God a face, and that face is streaked with tears. Whenever I read straight through the Bible, a huge difference between the Old and New Testaments comes to light. In the Old Testament I can find many expressions of doubt and disappointment. Whole books—Jeremiah, Habakkuk, Job—center on the theme. Almost half of the psalms have a dark, brooding tone about them.
In striking contrast, the New Testament Epistles contain little of this type of anguish. The problem of pain has surely not gone away: James 1, Romans 5 and 8, the entire book of 1 Peter, and much of Revelation deal with the subject in detail. Nevertheless, nowhere do I find the piercing question Does God care? I see nothing resembling the accusation of Psalm 77: “Has God forgotten to be merciful?”
The reason for the change, I believe, is that Jesus answered that question for the witnesses who wrote the Epistles. In Jesus, God presents a face. Anyone who wonders how God feels about the suffering on this groaning planet need only look at that face. James, Peter, and John had followed Jesus long enough for his facial expressions to be permanently etched on their minds. By watching Jesus respond to a hemorrhaging woman, a grieving centurion, a widow’s dead son, an epileptic boy, an old blind man, they learned how God felt about suffering.
How do I want God to respond to my situation? I want Him to give me what I want, because it seems good and right. But all He ever guarantees to give me in my deepest pain . . . is Himself. I find myself asking, again and again . . . is that enough?
My counselor reminded me of the story of the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7 . . .
54 When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
I’m not there yet. I honestly don’t see how I would ever get there. But that’s not the point.
The point is . . . God gives Himself as an answer to my suffering not to change my situation, but to suffer with me.
I complain of my own suffering, but God chooses to enter every person’s suffering that asks Him for help. The greatest intensity of pain pierced his body on the cross, and pierces his heart even now. And He chooses it, so we don’t have to suffer alone.
And isn’t that really what I want? What has ever given me the greatest comfort? It has never been well-meaning advice. And while changing the situation certainly seems the most ideal, the sweetest expression of love to me, the one that brings tears to my eyes, is when a person willingly comes down into my valley of grief and sits with me there, holds me there, cries with me there . . . for as long as it takes for me to move forward.
And that is the heart of God.