The ancient patriarch Job felt alone in his suffering. He said, “Oh, that I knew where I might find him! that I might come even to his seat! (Job 23:2).
I’ve heard people echo Job’s lament over the years. “Where is God when I need him?” or “God doesn’t hear my prayers!” or “What did I do to deserve this?” We’re human and forsakenness is a common emotion in our humanity. “Nobody knows the sorrow I’ve seen,” the old spiritual says.
But we find an interesting take from apologist C.S. Lewis. He knew loss when his wife, Joy, died of cancer. In “A Grief Observed,” he wrote about his sorrow and his questioning of God. But he came to trust God once again and wrote some tantalizing words about pain: “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
The sufferings of life get our attention and make us see we’re not self-sufficient. We often feel self-sufficient when things are going our way -- when there’s health and money and all the attendant pleasures of life. But when we lose any of these things, we’re reminded of our humanity and vulnerability to loss.
The apostle Paul knew pain as well. He called it a “thorn” in his body, but never explained what it was. My favorite theory is the stoning he received in Lystra where he was dragged out of the city and left for dead. Without emergency medical treatment we’re accustomed to, I can imagine he had internal organ damage and broken bones that never completely healed. Whatever his pain he cried out to God for its removal. It wasn’t removed, but he did get something from God: the promise of God’s presence and the promise of God’s grace.
This is why many faithful saints became so through suffering. Many of our hymn-writers wrote from personal pain, but also from the comfort they found in partnership with God. I’ve known many senior saints over the years who’ve wrestled with pain, but who, nonetheless, have developed an unshakeable confidence in the goodness of the Lord.
Scripture asserts that no one of us is truly forsaken despite our feelings that we are. The psalm writer said, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).
Some of our pain is explicable, for we make bad choices. But some is inexplicable this side of heaven. We’re promised an accounting one day. Until then, we’re exhorted to trust in the goodness of God and his ultimate plan of fulfillment in our lives.
Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster. The church's website is siluriabaptist.com.