Where is God when it hurts?
by Dr. Dave Currie
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
We all go through trials – it’s part of the human condition.
Why does God allow suffering in our lives? I get asked this more frequently than most any other question. It is a matter of perspective. Like the mother doing needlepoint, from her view, the pattern is taking shape nicely. To the child on the floor looking at the backside of the craft, the tangled randomness of the threads makes no sense.
Our suffering can have a combination of effects on our lives. Suffering may…
expose natural consequences. Hard things in life happen to everyone. Being a Christian doesn’t make you immune. Cancer has no favourites. Bullets kill in Columbine, Coaldale or Las Vegas. Jesus said that the sun shines and the rain falls on the good and the evil – the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45). Yet Jesus also said, in this world we will have trouble and trials but in Him we can have peace because He can overcome all things (John 16:33).
exemplify our faith. A person’s faith is like a tea bag. You don’t see what’s in it until it’s in the hot water! God uses our trials to reveal our faith. They refine us and reveal the genuineness of our commitment. There are times when God puts you on display. We are told “we can rejoice when we suffer grief in all kinds of trials because these trials come for a purpose. It’s that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6,7). Jesus even told this same Peter (who just wrote about faith as gold being refined) that satan was going to sift him like wheat but that his faith might not fail (Luke 22:31-32). And if it’s not Peter being tested, don’t ever forget about Job.
eliminate our sin. Sometimes God is disciplining us to bring about needed changes in our lives – to deal with sin. It’s like a parent who corrects their child because they love them, they want the best for them. “the Lord disciplines those He loves and He corrects and even punishes the one He accepts as His son” Hebrews 12:5. He wants to deal with our sin and train us for our good – especially when we clearly get off track.
ensure right priorities. Trials can get our attention like few other things. When we suffer, we sometimes start listening in a new way. We can get busy doing our own thing – calling the shots day-to-day like we are in charge. Our commitment to the Lord can slip. We prioritize the wrong things: money, positions, relationships and pleasures. God wants us to ‘seek Him first’ – period (Matthew 6:33). He wants us to have “no other Gods before Him” (Exodus 20:3) – especially ourselves. Paul learned the hard way too. “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this (all the stresses and trials) happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).
enhance personal growth. Maturity in character doesn’t happen instantly. Growth takes time. Our faith grows through hard times. Character is often formed by a testing crucible. And spiritual strength – just like in the weight room – comes through resistance. The connection between our personal growth and hard times is so central to faith development that we are told we are to “rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-5). James goes so far that he calls it “pure joy whenever we face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4). Suffering sometimes is God pruning the tree to enhance growth. We become more like Christ.
experience God’s strengthening. Ever felt like you were running on fumes? That you are at the end of yourself” There’s too much going on. Too much is being demanded of you. There’s just no more strength. In your emptiness and despair you desperately whisper a prayer, “God, I can’t do this. It’s too much.” Then God lifts you, strengthens you. The Lord says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” As Paul experienced this strengthening he penned, “therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
enable greater comforting. God doesn’t waste pain. He takes our suffering and uses it for good – to enrich the lives of others. Maybe it was a harsh job loss, a broken relationship or childhood sexual abuse. The lessons we learn in suffering can be transferred and bring hope to many others. Read it for yourself – “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
enlist us in a new direction. Sometimes when God closes a door that we thought would be ideal for us we feel disappointment and discouragement. It’s a battle to trust Him. Joseph had a ton of reasons to seriously complain about what he went through. He was hated by his brothers, betrayed by family and sold into slavery, hauled off to a foreign country, worked as a servant, accused of an affair he didn’t have, thrown in jail and then forgotten for years. Yet while surrendering to God’s plan through it all he was able to say later to the brothers who betrayed him, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).
In summary. Ask God to show you… what He has for you in your trials. What’s the effect? And while you wait for the His answer, stay as close to Him as you can. He often whispers clearest in our fullest surrender. Bravely follow Him and remember, when you can’t see the hand of God, you can always trust the heart of God.