Hope in Pain
Crying out to God in our suffering.
Life frequently brings pain of varying degrees and in seasons. My own experiences with suffering have been short-lived. Yes, there have been broken bones, stitches, and surgical procedures. Yet, I can only claim the discomfort for a limited time.
More often, I have witnessed the pain of others. I have a good friend who continually suffers without end. She told me that she belongs to a group with whom she regularly meets to share their experience. I cannot imagine what it is like to permanently live with pain. Yet, many do.
C.S. Lewis wrote in his preface of The Problem of Pain, "I must add, too, that the only purpose of the book is to solve the intellectual problem raised by suffering; for the far higher task of teaching fortitude and patience I was never fool enough to suppose myself qualified…"
Years later he would know the pain of a lost relationship--his wife Joy Davidman. When he wrote about this season of his life in A Grief Observed, he began with these words: "No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”
Lewis was 57 and Joy 41, at the time suffering from bone cancer, when they married in the hospital. She lived longer than expected. They were given four years before she passed away. He wrote, not based on an intellectual exercise, but on experience. He knew well the problem of pain because of his wife's death.
The Old and New Testament Scriptures breathe pain and suffering. Discomfort is fundamental to the core theme of God's work of redemption. Scripture declares the great value of suffering. Those who are looking to escape it will not find the Scriptures helpful. Pain and suffering are messages that something is wrong. Yet, by nature, they point to what is right--how life should be. It drives us to God. What does that look like?
The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah mourned the destruction and loss of Jerusalem. The Babylonians had destroyed it. It was a long season of distress and suffering for the people of Israel. Consider what Jeremiah wrote in the book of Lamentations.
"I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness, and the gall.
I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord's great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, 'The LORD is my portion; therefore, I will wait for him.'
The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.
When in agony, we weep, but not necessarily before the Lord. We tend to push on and make the best of our troubles. We must be still in our pain before God. In our time of sorrow, we are not to think that God will belittle us. Christ wept with his cheerless friends after Lazarus had died. We must weep before our Lord. Cry out to him in times of trouble.
Does the knowledge that someone is really listening to you make any difference? It means a great deal to know that someone cares in times of trouble, even if he or she can do nothing but listen. God does more than listen; he hears us. When grieving or hurting you are not interested in advice. You want to know that you are being heard. It is a sign that someone cares.
The book of Lamentations is a record of what God has heard. It is a memorial of the events and the activity of the servant of God, Jeremiah. God is not distant from his people, ever. He never leaves nor forsakes them. You weep in the presence of a great God who is compassionate and comforting.
The psalmist says, "Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray."
I am not sure I know how God always comforts me. Yet I know that in time there is healing. Healing comes faster for some than others. Certainly, he uses his Word to speak to our destitute souls. We need to hear in such times his voice that will reorient our thinking. At the same time, he uses his people to bring healing. This is what we learn from Romans 12:14 and 2 Corinthians 1:3-7. Regardless, his Spirit will remind us of his presence and love.
Our Savior's love drove him to suffer for us ("for the joy set before him he endured the cross”) He is well qualified to hear our prayers of pain and minister to us his grace.
Chuck Garriott is the founder and Executive Director of Ministry to State.