I’ve been thinking a lot lately about pain. Over the Christmas period there seems to have been many from our church who are going through terrible times. For some this is illness, including serious illness, and for others grief as loved ones have been lost, many far too young.
As always when I find myself with people in pain, as various people spoke to me, I found two different possibilities opening up in front of me in how to respond. The first possibility is the words I wish I could say. The second is the truth.
I wish I could promise you all long and pain-free lives … but I cannot. God has never promised that and even Jesus was not granted it. No, shockingly not even God was exempt from pain. God, in Christ, shared our human frailty.
An old Jewish saying was, “Where Messiah is, there is no misery.” As Christians, knowing the Messiah to be Jesus, we cannot say the same … but we can say this – “Where misery is, there is the Messiah, Jesus.” Blessed are the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the mourners and the persecuted, says Jesus (Matthew 5:3-20). Jesus experienced each of these – knowing poverty, hunger and thirst. Crying at the grave of a friend and suffering cruel persecution.
Philip Yancey wrote a book called, “Where is God when it hurts?” – we know one answer because God came a showed us. Read the gospels and see how Jesus responded to the tragedies of his day – large scale tragedies, like government terrorism in the temple, or a tower collapsing on 18 innocent bystanders (Luke 13:1-5) – and small scale tragedies, like a widow losing her only son (Luke 7:11-15) or a Roman soldiers servant falling ill (Matt 8:5-13). In these moments Jesus can never be seen giving sermons about judgement or the providence of God – instead he responds with compassion (a Latin word meaning ‘to suffer with’).
God stands on the side of those who suffer.
Just yesterday someone said to me, with tears in their eyes, “This is when I doubt my faith. God’s all powerful, isn’t he? So why? Why?”
I don’t know. I cannot give you an answer, because I simply don’t know. And I would suggest you resist anyone who confidently gives you an answer. God did not give an answer to that question to Job. Likewise, Jesus never seemed to answer “Why?”. We have hints, partial answers and explanations – but the full answer … no one knows.
What we do know is what God feels about it. Three times, in the Gospels, we read that Jesus weeps. Once at the grave of his friend Lazarus (Jn 11:17-44), once as he looked over the city of Jerusalem and saw in advance it’s destruction (Lk19:41-44) and once as he contemplated his own suffering and death (Lk 22:39-46).
In Jesus we see the God who weeps at suffering.
Not everyone will be satisfied with that answer, but it’s all we can say with confidence. The Christian view of the world can be reduced to three simply sentences:
The world is good.
The world is fallen.
The world will be redeemed.
It is on the final sentence that we Christians put our trust. This world is not the way God wants it, but thanks to what Jesus has done, we trust that God will bring a time in which evil, and pain and suffering will be defeated. One day God will wipe every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away – God will make everything new (Rev 21:4-5).
Until that time, I pray that each of you will know that God is with you – especially if you are going through hard times.
God bless you all,
(Note: Philip Yancey’s book “What good is God?” was hugely helpful to me in writing this, and many of the points start with him. He’s a fantastic author and you should run out and buy everything he’s ever written immediately)