By David Faust
Have you ever wondered why there is so much sorrow in the world? Since God created freewill beings, is he responsible for pain and suffering? In his book Where Is God When It Hurts? Philip Yancey points out that “giving a child a pair of ice skates, knowing that he may fall, is a very different matter from knocking him down on the ice.”
In the book of Lamentations, Jeremiah used poetic prayers to voice deep sorrow over the fallen city of Jerusalem. He wrote, “Joy is gone from our hearts; our dancing has turned to mourning. The crown has fallen from our head. Woe to us, for we have sinned!” (Lamentations 5:15-16).
How should we handle times of mourning when joy disappears? Where is God in painful times?
Some hurts are hard to explain. The apostle Paul performed miracles of healing, so why did he leave Trophimus sick in Miletus (2 Timothy 4:20)? And why did God say no when Paul asked for removal of his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)? Pain shouldn’t surprise us. In our fallen world, nature itself aches for redemption like a woman in the throes of childbirth (Romans 8:18-25). Some hurts result from our own foolish choices, for “a man reaps what he sows” (Galatians 6:7). Some suffering comes from Satan’s direct attacks (Job 2:7; Luke 13:16) and some is caused by the evil choices of others. God uses hardship to instruct and discipline us, as loving parents do (Hebrews 12:4-11), but it’s not always easy to discern exactly what we’re supposed to learn.
Some hurts are part of the healing process. Gardeners prune plants to make them more fruitful. Surgeons make strategic cuts to remove disease. Physical therapists use the temporary discomfort of stretching and exercise to bring their patients long-term improvement.
Some hurts result from trying to help. Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet because he bore a heavy burden for the Jewish people. “Since my people are crushed, I am crushed,” he wrote (Jeremiah 8:21). It’s been said, “Hurt people hurt people.” And we’re surrounded by people who are hurting! When we bear others’ burdens and care for the suffering, we may get hurt in the process. “Wounded healers” are in good company, for Christ himself “took up our pain and bore our suffering” (Isaiah 53:4).
Some hurts will be healed only in heaven. The Lord is preparing a place for us where tears, death, mourning, and pain will disappear forever (Revelation 21:4). According to Philip Yancey,
The Bible consistently changes the questions we bring to the problem of pain. It rarely, or ambiguously, answers the backward-looking question “Why?” Instead, it raises the very different, forward-looking question, “To what end?” We are not put on earth merely to satisfy our desires, to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. We are here to be changed, to be made more like God in order to prepare us for a lifetime with him.
None of our hurts escape the heavenly Father’s attention. Jeremiah prayed, “Remember, Lord, what has happened to us; look, and see our disgrace” (Lamentations 5:1). God does see and remember. He is a very present help in times of trouble, and through Jesus Christ, he came in person to share our suffering. “The God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3) is with us in our pain.
Personal Challenge: With your small group or a trusted friend, talk about your own experiences with physical, emotional, or spiritual pain. What has God taught you through hardship and suffering?