John Donne, a 17th-century poet, experienced great pain. Because he married the daughter of a disapproving lord, he was fired from his job as assistant to Lord Chancellor, yanked from his wife, and locked in a dungeon. (This was when he wrote that succinct line of despair, “John Donne/ Anne Donne/ Undone.”) Later, he endured a long illness which sapped his strength almost to the point of death. In the midst of this illness, Donne wrote a series of devotions on suffering which rank among the most poignant meditations on the subject. In one of these, he considers a parallel: The sickness which keeps him in bed forces him to think about his spiritual condition. Suffering gets our attention; it forces us to look to God when otherwise we would just as well ignore Him. -Adapted from Philip Yancey, Where is God When it Hurts?
Jesus warned us that there will be suffering in this world. Painful events seem to happen almost daily. At one point in my life, I just stopped watching the first 15 minutes of the newscast because all the bad things happening in the world were summarized in that first segment of the broadcast. As human beings living in a fallen world, we are aware suffering is something we all go through in life. It’s inevitable. It’s unavoidable. It’s just part of being alive. What we want to explore in this post is “How do we find God in the midst of our suffering?” Or maybe a better way to state it is, “How do we reconnect with God since God never moved or left us?”
To begin this journey into suffering, we need to lay out the roadmap. There are at least three possible roads to travel when we are dealing with pain.
The Road of Denial.
Often the most tempting and most comfortable option when it comes to dealing with most difficult situations in life is to bury your head in the sand and pray it goes away. That’s one reason there is so much suffering in the world. When we suppress our pain, it doesn’t go away; it just gets put aside for a little bit, and then we need to suppress it more and more. Much like a severe health problem, it doesn’t get better just because we ignore it. It is unhealthy and can emotionally kill us.
The Road of Tough It Out.
One of my favorite phrases is “Cowboy Up.” When it comes to the pain, we can just try our best to push through it, rub some dirt on it and move on. However, we are still not dealing with the pain, we are just trying to be bigger than the pain. That approach did not work when I had a broken wrist, and it doesn’t work with pain. Eventually, the pain wears you down, breaks you down, and it wins. The suffering is too great.
The Road of Refinement.
When I am going through pain one passage of Scripture stands out in mind, “Be Still and Know that I am God.” That verse provides comfort in two ways. First, it reminds us to sit and find strength in the quiet presence of God. Allow God to comfort, strengthen, and refine you in the trial you are facing.
Second, never lose sight of who God is. In my worship time this week I listened to my favorite hymn, “How Firm A Foundation.” My gift to you this week is to share some it with you.
Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid,
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.
When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow,
For I will be with thee thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace all-sufficient shall be thy supply,
The flame shall not hurt thee: I only design,
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.
In conclusion, this hymn points us to a few critical faith flashpoints. God never forsakes us in our pain. He is there to give us strength. Through the fiery trials, God’s grace is all we need to see us through those tough times. And finally, those moments of pain and trial as James states have a purpose, “My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4
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