One of the challenges facing some of the clients I work with is answering, where is God? It can sometimes be a difficult question to answer in the face of hardship and pain, and oftentimes, when I’ve been the seat of suffering, I’ve experienced the impulse to avoid dealing with this question with any degree of seriousness. Why? Because sometimes when facing pain, we can be prone to thinking and believing that we are all alone. And in that alone-ness, our flesh would deceive us into thinking that God has abandoned us in some way. So, at first blush, the question is met with, I don’t know where he is, but he ain’t here.
One of the terrible problems in the midst of pain is coming to the realization that the Bible never actually promises ease on this side of heaven. Yes, Jesus did miracles and he himself is off to prepare a place for us that we may be with him, where he is, when he returns. But the miracles we read about in the Bible, which we, in part, long for for ourselves, are, in part, for the encouragement of our faith. Someday we will receive new bodies but in the meantime, we must wait. We wait because the Bible does not promise ease on this side of heaven.
By ease, I simply mean, a pain-free life; a life where hardship and difficulty, suffering and pain do not come our way. We live in an age of so much “positive thinking” and “manifesting” for oneself the “best life now” that there is a tremendous gulf filled with intellectual dishonesty or ignorance (or a mix of both) with respect to suffering, much less with respect to appealing to the God of the Bible who Christians affirm is sovereign over our suffering.
The Bible is very transparent with respect to the core cause of all human suffering and pain: The reality of the presence of sin.
I don’t intend for this to mean that all suffering in an individual’s life directly corresponds to some specific individual sin we committed. Although that is conceivable, that is not where I am going with this remark.
Rather, putting our minds around this can actually alleviate a great deal of angst and frustration that, perhaps, finally, something isn’t your fault. Perhaps our suffering isn’t because we did something wrong, but rather, is rooted in something else.
Clearly, this isn’t a “fix-all” position either. Because we are creatures who have the capacity for logic and deduction, so we deduce something like, if it’s not my fault, then whose fault is it or if my suffering wasn’t in my control, was it in someone’s control (i.e. God).
If God is in control of our suffering, which I think the Bible teaches, then we are left facing some of the hardest questions we can face on this side of heaven; namely, when I am suffering, where is God?
Close yours eyes. Contemplate the essence of your pain. Consider your loss, your suffering, your hardship, your ailment, your difficulty, your struggle, the thing in your life you desperately wish were different…then, as you go to that deep, dark place of silent aloneness, ask the question: God, where are you?
“To the Lord I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill.”Psalm 3:4
“I have installed my Kind on Zion, my holy hill.”Psalm 2:6
By way of reference, holy hill is the cross of Christ. David prophesied the Hill of Golgotha where Israel’s true king would die; where Israel’s true and lasting hope and consolation will be found in our most desperate moments.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.Heb 4:14-16
WHERE IS GOD
We answer the question of where is God by drawing from these passages. We could look at many more, but let’s start here.
God, the one in whom our hope rests, is seated on his throne. That is where he is.
When we are in our suffering, God is on his throne. In our suffering, we can draw near the throne of grace, where Jesus is, and confidently know we will find the grace and mercy in our hour of need.Tweet
WHAT IS JESUS DOING?
The other passage I wish to draw attention is this:
Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.[Rom 8:34 ESV]
Jesus is beside the Father, who is on His throne, actively interceding for us. When sudden disaster strikes (cf. Proverbs 3:25); when our loved ones die; when we lose jobs; when we receive that diagnosis; when, as we go through life and realize there is something missing in our soul, and when we ask God where are you, this is the answer – he is interceding on your behalf.
THE SIN PROBLEM
In our suffering, we do well to remember that Jesus suffered, too. Unlike our pain, however, Jesus endured pain perfectly. He suffered without sin and without sinning.
When we suffer, we always suffer in the context of sin. We cannot endure suffering apart from sin. Sin is always a variable in our pain.
The role of sin in our suffering and hardship is working to cause us to do whatever we can to manage our pain apart from Christ and apart from the gospel of Christ.Tweet
To the extent we endeavor to proceed without the assistance of Jesus; without the Spirit; without the Father; without assistance of the gospel, then that is where we can place our finger and say: Here, this where sin is doing its deceptive work.
The core lie we’ve come to believe goes something like this: God is not here; God is not needed; a good God wouldn’t have allowed this, (or some variation of this sort).
When Paul explains where Jesus is and what he is doing, he guides us with this question:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?[Romans 8:35 ESV]
If you are in Christ, you remain steadfast in him in your distress. No degree of pain or hardship can tear you apart from his love. When we are in our pain, Paul invites us to think deeply about a new question.
Romans 8:35 helps us in our suffering because rather than asking where is God we can now ask, where am I?
Dear suffering Christian – you are in Christ and Christ and his love is in you. That is where you are and that is where God is.
To be continued…