Where is God when it hurts, I mean when it really hurts, when it hurts so bad you can’t catch your breath, when it hurts so bad you think your friends can’t understand or your spouse can’t understand and maybe even God Himself doesn’t get it either? Where’s God then? If you’ve suffered like that, you’re not alone. Even Jesus himself has suffered that much. Do you remember when he was on the cross, he was beaten and left for dead, he was bleeding to death and literally suffocating and he looked up to heaven, he cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Theologians for the last 2,000 years have done a good job in unpacking what that meant spiritually and theologically. But I’ll tell you what that statement is not. It’s not a lack of faith. It is a psychological property of trauma to feel very alone. If you have felt that way, you’re not alone. Jesus himself has suffered that much.
One of the greatest Christian authors of the last hundred years is C.S. Lewis. He wrote for us The Problem of Pain. It’s a great book and a helpful book on this whole subject. But after he wrote that book, Lewis himself fell in love and got married to the love of his life. And then that woman tragically contracted cancer and died. Then he wrote A Grief Observed where Lewis himself described what his trauma was like. This is what he said “Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no need of him, if you turn to him then with praise, you will be welcomed with open arms. But go to him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain and what do you find? A door slammed in your face and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. And after that, silence. You may as well turn away.” C.S. Lewis was not experiencing a crisis of faith at that time. He was describing for us a psychological property of trauma. You feel very alone and at times so alone that you think God himself can’t even understand.
How are we going to deal with these times of suffering that are so tragic for us that it divides us from everyone, even God? I think we need a theology of suffering to help us direct ourselves in our time of greatest need. Suffering in life is a vector, it’s a force that’s going to push you in a direction. The wisest people I know in life are people who have suffered greatly. But also the most bitter people I know in life are people who have suffered greatly. What’s the difference? The people who come out wiser as the result of their suffering allowed that vector, that force of suffering to point them in a direction of goodness and the people who turned out bitter did not. We need tools, we need ideas, we need a theology of suffering to help us point us in the direction of becoming better people, not bitter ones as a result of our own suffering.
I’m gonna give you four things that’ll help you if you’re experiencing this kind of suffering in your life. The first is perseverance. God has given you the capacity to persevere. Perseverance is not patience. Patience is a good thing but patience is passive, it’s waiting for something to happen. Perseverance is active. Perseverance means you get up in the morning, you wash your face, you suit up and you choose the good. You’re looking for good things to do, to choose in the midst of your suffering. You don’t wait. You’re not waiting on God or anyone else to do anything. You’re choosing yourself to be an active person, pursuing goodness in life.
The second thing you need is relationships. Perseverance is not enough. What you need to choose to do in the midst of your suffering is choose to stay connected to other people. Trauma is disorienting. It gives you a sense of unreality, it disconnects you from other people. I’m telling you this now: choosing love heals hurt. Staying connected to other people is healing of your suffering in the midst of it. You have the capacity to choose relationships. Choose those in the midst of your suffering.
If you do that, you’ll get the third thing, which is personal power. Everyone in life has been victimized by some things and you come out of victimization either being a survivor or a victim, one or the other. It’s not your fault if you’ve become a victim but it’s your fault if you stay one. Becoming a survivor instead of a victim is someone who maintains their sense of personal power. Personal power is the opposite of everything you’ve ever read about personal power. It’s not control and domination and having power over other people. That’s not personal power. Personal power is having power with them. Personal power is not domination, it’s inspiration. The people who have suffered the most in life and suffered well are people who inspire us all the most. Those are the people who really have the power to influence others far beyond what anyone who’s trying to control people could ever do.
The fourth thing that you need to be a better person, not a bitter one in the midst of your suffering, is God himself. Martin Luther made an awful lot about Exodus 33 where Moses went to God and he said “I’ve been your servant, I’ve served you, show me your face. I want to see your glory. That’s what I really know to need, to know you, to see your face, to know that you’re real”. And what God said to him is “It would kill you if I did.” So he put Moses in the cleft of the rock and after God passed by Moses, God allowed Moses to see his back side and then it clicked for Martin Luther. He said “That’s it. That’s when God is most real. Not in the glory times, not in the good times, but after God has passed us by, the back side of God is in our suffering. When in your life has God been most real? Is that when everything was going great or is that when you found God in the midst of your suffering? That’s when he becomes most real.
Here’s the question. When you’re suffering so much that you feel disconnected from everyone in life, has God abandoned you? Is that what’s going on or do you have an opportunity to find God and then see him as most real God? He is most real to us in the midst of our suffering. If you find him, then you’ll be a better person and not a bitter one.