How could a good God allow such suffering in the world? I think at some point we all ask that question. We don’t really have answers, but I feel closer to the answer now than ever before. My perspective on this has changed significantly now that I have endured some level of suffering.
Similar to grief, suffering is more complex than I once thought. It is possible to simultaneously experience suffering, pain, sorrow, as well as deep joy, peace, hope, and love. Those feelings are not mutually exclusive. Joy and sorrow coexist.
In our culture, it seems the main goal is to avoid any suffering. We want to be comfortable. We are meant to thrive. Sometimes it feels like being uncomfortable is failure. To suffer is a betrayal of the American dream. We preach that if we have faith enough – if we are obedient enough, God will give us prosperity. I do believe God wants to bless us, and he wants what is best for us. But that may not align with what’s on our vision boards.
We are not promised a life free of hardship. In fact, we are promised suffering and persecution (2 Timothy 3:12, 1 Peter 4:12-13). Can you think of any God-follower in the Bible who did not endure hardship? Everyone will face difficulty. We are promised hardship, but we are also promised comfort and peace (1 Peter 5:10). That promise has been fulfilled in my experience.
When we found out Ginny had passed away in my womb, our world came crashing down. How could this happen?! Everything was going so well! I had never had to face any true difficulty in my life. This happens to someone else; this doesn’t happen to me. I’ve prayed for protection and health. This can’t be happening! When I finally realized it really was happening, I also realized God was wrapping me in his arms of comfort, love, and peace. The pain was so strong, but at the same time I felt held. He was so near, nearer than I have ever felt in any worship service or quiet meditation. I thought I should be asking, “Where are you God?!”… but he was clearly right there. I thought I should be asking, “How could you let this happen?! Don’t you love me?!”… but I felt so so loved.
I didn’t ask those questions. I didn’t even pray at all. I felt him in our presence. I didn’t need to pray; he was part of everything we were going through. Even since, I no longer pray for him to be with me. I feel him with me. I don’t pray for this wish or that wish to come to pass. I pray his will be done and for my understanding and peace. Often I don’t know what to pray, and I know the Holy Spirit intercedes on my behalf (Romans 8:26). He truly is near to the brokenhearted (Psalms 34:18).
In suffering you find yourself in a place where you actually NEED Jesus; you need Jesus to get through to the next hour.
You surrender to that reality. When you can no longer hang on, you have no other choice but to let go. There is freedom in surrender. Letting go of control allows you to stop tiptoeing in life and step firm footed. That’s when you experience his love to a new level. You experience mercy to a new degree. You let go and fall back.
Long ago I prayed, “Dear Lord, make my heart more like yours.” Famous last words. If you want a heart more like God’s, it will be broken. It will be broken because his heart is broken and so your heart can grow. It grows in capacity to love and empathize. It grows in its appreciation of life. It grows in hope for the future. The comfort you receive gives you courage to face any challenge. You realize you never have to walk alone (Psalm 23:4). There is a fullness of life in this. In John 10:10, Jesus promises life to the full. I thought that meant we would be given many blessings, but now I understand that it means our lives will be full of love, grief, comfort, brokenheartedness, and all the intense feelings that come along with suffering as well as blessings. It is a full life.
I used to avoid anything sad; I wanted to focus on being positive and choosing joy. I would never have read this blog. Now I feel I can actually face pain, fear, and suffering and not look away. I have the courage to look at it straight on. I can face it now because I know from experience I don’t have to carry the burden. Jesus already carried the burden (Isaiah 53:3-5). I can help others face it. I can share with them the comfort I’ve received from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-6).
We have been called to suffer along with Christ, to bear our cross (Matthew 16:24, 1 Peter 2:19-21, Romans 8:16-18). To live like Christ is to have sorrow…. is to have pain…is to have peace…is to have freedom. To live like Christ is most importantly to love.
This may be obvious to those who have witnessed a suffering world full of prejudices, fear, and injustice. But for a white, educated, “#blessed” woman in America, this is a revelation.
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” Romans 5:4-6