Last time, I waxed eloquent about God’s role in suffering (according to counselor and theologian Ed Welch) – God uses our suffering to teach us about our hearts. Welch also argues that suffering actually points us towards God – in two ways:
- We need God to endure our suffering.
- The life of God’s son, Jesus, helps us to understand our suffering.
Now silence that little voice in your head that might be saying, Okay, great, but I still have to believe in God to care about this perspective. I’m with you, friend. I’ve been there. But stick with me. Welch is simply saying that bad things can have a good purpose. And also that we shouldn’t expect life to be a bowl of cherries:
The cross says that life will not be easy. If Jesus serves, we will serve. If Jesus suffers, we, too, will experience hardships. . . Suffering is part of the path that leads to glory and beauty.
BUT. It seems to me that suffering doesn’t always do what it’s intended to do – it doesn’t always bring good, and it doesn’t always bring us closer to God. Because our world is a broken world, and because we are broken people, when we suffer we are often tempted away from God, and tempted to doubt God. Suffering comes into my life and that little voice in my brain says, No way is there a God in this. I am alone, and that God I believed in yesterday/last week/last year…well, I don’t know what I was thinking.
Welch reminds that “the story of Scripture is one in which God demonstrates himself to be trustworthy, and then he invites wary people to trust him” (emphasis added). I am a wary person. (Okay, I admit it. More often sarcastic. But sometimes wary.) It’s hard for me to trust the Bible on difficult days, and God feels far from the midst of my own emotional pain. How can God understand? But then I am reminded — God has already demonstrated his trustworthiness:
When someone has suffered like you, they understand you before you speak. They can even supply words that describe your suffering. Jesus suffered; therefore, he knows our suffering.
When we suffer what seems like endless pain, it is hard to believe that God loves us, but Jesus’ suffering proves that it can be true.
How could someone who had nails pounded through his hands, who endured humiliation, shame, and abandonment by his own Father not understand my own pain? Of course he understands.
When I look back over my life — I see this trustworthiness played out, again and again. I see how He has pursued me, carried me through the hard times, continually brought me back to Him. And then I begin to see parallels of this faithfulness in other ways, too.
When my son was a baby, he hated having his diaper changed. Absolutely hated it. Basically like all babies. He would cry and scream and kick and flail his little arms around. And yet — I wasn’t torturing him, or even hurting him at all. I was doing something that was good for him. Something that he appreciated later (whether he understood it or not), but couldn’t understand in his limited baby perspective. Not unlike how I respond when God does things that are good for me but that I don’t understand in the moment because they aren’t in line with what I want.
Or it’s like the many times my husband and I fight. Usually I am the abrasive one, the fighter (I know, and here you thought I was an absolute angel), and he is patient, loving, waiting — even in the midst of his own pain — pain which I have inevitably caused. He waits for me to cool off, to calm down, to come back to him (sometimes literally).
God also waits for me, when I experience doubt and anger and frustration, and is faithful in the waiting. Depression can draw us away from God. It can tempt us to doubt, to self-medicate, to forget God. Depression is ugly and dark, but in some ways, it also tells us the truth:
Depression says, ‘You will not find meaning in what you are doing,’ and depression is right. What it doesn’t tell you is, ‘Keep looking, you will find it. You are a creature with a royal purpose.’
Depression is not the end; it’s the reminder to keep looking. It’s the reminder that what we have won’t satisfy – but something else will.
From the foundation of the world, God knew your sufferings and declared that he himself would take human form and participate in them . . . what happens to the sinful creatures of God, however tragic, is less monstrous and criminal than what happened to the Son of God. How can you respond?
How do you respond?