Where Is God When It Hurts?
Jerry N. Duncan, Ph.D., ABPP
The title of this newsletter is the title of Philip Yancey’s book on understanding pain and suffering. We need an understanding of pain and suffering for our own sakes, and for the sake of those who ask us for an explanation. And we will be asked.
How about these statements from Christian visitors to a woman being treated for Hodgkin’s disease?—A deacon from her church said, “Surely something in your life must displease God. Somewhere, you must have stepped out of his will. These things don’t just happen. God uses circumstances to warn us, and to punish us. What is he telling you?”
Or the one who says, “You need to come to the place where you can say, ‘God, I love you for making me suffer like this. It is your will, and you know what’s best for me. And I praise you for loving me enough to allow me to experience this. In all things, including this, I give thanks.’”
Or another who says, “You have been appointed to suffer for Christ, and he will reward you. God chose you because of your great strength and integrity, just as he chose Job, and he is using you as an example to others. Their faith may increase because of your response. You should feel privileged, not bitter. What we see as adversity, God sees as opportunity. See yourself as a track star, and view adversity as a series of hurdles to leap over on the way to the victory circle.”
Because Jesus lives inside us as believers, we have Him as a resource to understand pain and suffering and to be his hands and feet and lips. He said He would help us know what to pray, even if it was just a groan.
Sometimes, all a sufferer needs is our presence over the long run. John Howard Griffin said, “Those who have known pain profoundly are the ones most wary of uttering the clichés about suffering. Experience with the mystery takes one beyond the realm of ideas and produces finally a muteness or at least a reticence to express in words the solace that can only be expressed by an attitude of union with the sufferer."
Maybe just our physical presence shows a love and concern that becomes a representation of God’s love and concern, and His willingness to be with them. Maybe it’s not a representation at all. Maybe our presence is God being present to them through us.
How we understand pain and suffering will determine how we manage it when it comes our way. And it will come our way.
How we understand pain and suffering will determine how we minister to our family, our friends, and those we serve in our congregations.
We must develop a Biblical understanding of pain that allows us to be distinctly different than the friends of Job. Their approach was hurtful not helpful. Let us be with those who hurt rather than try to fix those who hurt.
As we join them in their suffering, let us communicate to them that we wish to shoulder their pain with them as best we can so they are convinced that they are not alone.