Why, O Lord?
JANUARY 24, 2023
We have a God who is not only aware of great suffering, in Scripture we are reminded that he entered our great suffering.
“Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” Psalm 10:1
Suffering has a way of sobering us
C.S. Lewis said, in Problem of Pain, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Timothy Keller, in his most recent (and excellent!) book begins with a statement by Lewis and then follows it up: “Suffering ‘plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul.’ It is an exaggeration to say that no one finds God unless suffering comes into their lives – but it is not a big one. When pain and suffering come upon us, we finally see not only that we are not in control of our lives but that we never were.” (Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, 5).
When we see painful suffering in the world or when it arrives on our doorstep, it has a way of forcing us to wrestle with the big questions like, “Is there a God? If there is, is he even aware of the pure evil, sickness, and suffering occurring on his watch? Has he done anything about it? Will he do anything about it? Where is he?”
In John 16:33, Jesus tells us that “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33, emphasis mine), so the question is not if we will suffer. The question is always, “How we will suffer?”
Where do we go in suffering?
In the Old Testament, there is a godly man known as Job. Job loses his 10 children in natural disaster, is stricken with boils, and his wife encourages him to join her and abandon the God who appears to have abandoned them. Job’s buddies arrive to comfort and counsel him. They appear helpful by holding their tongues. Then they open their mouths. They speak and things get worse. They begin asking theological and philosophical and personal questions that don’t help. Sometimes silence is the best counsel. In fact, maybe that’s why God feels so distant during our sufferings. Maybe he knows that sometimes no words will comfort us, only his presence can provide the healing and relief we so desperately long for.
You see, in times of suffering, pithy, cliche, Christian bumper sticker aphorisms never help anybody. In fact, they’re patronizing. I’ve heard Christians try to counsel each other with trite statements such as “Brother, you just need to let go and let God.” Or “Have a little more faith, man!” Or “When God closes a door he opens a window.” What does that even mean? Those kinds of silly statements sound quite obnoxious to an individual in the midst of their suffering.
I’ve lost five family members in the last five years. Five. One morning, after the third death in my family happened I was reading Job and came across the last chapters in which God speaks to Job out of a whirlwind (Job 38.1) (the same type of storm that killed his children) and God began asking Job a series of questions:
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38.4)
“Do you give the horse his might?” (Job 39.19)
“Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars?” (Job 39.26)
In that moment, all of a sudden, I felt bullied by the God I loved. I wasn’t ready for his questions. I was enraged, my pride was insulted, and I was humbled. Before I knew it, I threw my Bible into the wall. And said “Where were you?” I couldn’t trace his hand and I couldn’t understand his wisdom in those questions. I broke. I sobbed. And his questions kept washing over my mind as I was sobered that he is God. He is sovereign. He is near. And my most recent crisis was not “news” to him. In a matter of moments, I knew that he cared about my broken heart.
Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 NIV). There are innumerable other gods, faiths, substances, and addictions to which we are tempted to turn for comfort. Jesus says for us to exclusively come to him and he alone.
In our lowest, most disoriented, frustrated, angry and confused state – when faith feels like faith, it is in that moment we can join with the psalmist and “pour out our complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him” (Ps. 142.2). He can take it. He is God. Jesus’ friend and disciple Peter, who suffered greatly and wrote to a suffering people told them and urges us today to “Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). You don’t have tip-toe around the throne of God. You don’t have to find your best outfit and clean yourself up. You don’t have to speak with the tongues of angels to get your Father’s attention. I have a little boy named Jude. He’s two years old. On Saturday night, my wife and I were finished getting ready to go out on a date. I was sitting in my chair reading. Jude had been in the the back yard playing in the dirt. He was absolutely filthy, covered in dust and peanut butter and jelly all around his mouth.
He marched right up to me in incredible confidence climbed up on my lap and pulled my face up close to his and said, “Daddy, where’s the pretzels?” As God’s children, we have that same right. We can march as boldly and confidently as my little Jude before the throne of God because when it comes to his kids, his throne is a throne of grace (Heb. 4.16). And when we get there, our Father doesn’t want us to mince words. His desire is to hear us say what we must say, cry the tears that must be cried, and rejoice loudly in his presence. He is our all-powerful, all-knowing, always-present, Abba Father.
How do we pray when we suffer?
We have a God who is not only aware of great suffering, in Scripture we are reminded that he entered our great suffering, and out-suffered the entire world’s sin, sickness, and death and crushed what crushes us through his triumphant resurrection from the dead. Currently, Jesus is building a home for us. Currently Jesus is praying for us. There is coming a day on the calendar of God that I am certain he is eager to see arrive, for it is the day when he will appear glorious by wiping away every tear from every eye.