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When in the thick of suffering

We have a few friends who have been experiencing the most devastating loss and the most cutting grief — things for which they bear no responsibility.

What are we to say?

Are we to explain some purpose in their suffering? Any attempt to theorise with or inform our friends about their sufferings is crushing. The words of Romans 8:28 — “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” — are simply appalling. The experience of suffering is exactly the wrong time to theologise about suffering.*

In other words, we’re not to “say” anything. We mourn with those who mourn (Rom 12:15). We give voice to grief with the most gut-wrenching and searching words of pain.

Have mercy on me, LORD, for I am faint; heal me, LORD, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in deep anguish. How long, LORD, how long? Turn, LORD, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love. I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes. (Psalm 6)

How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall. (Psalm 13)

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. I am a worm, not a human being; I am scorned by everyone, despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. “He trusts in the LORD,” they say,

“Let the LORD rescue him. Let God deliver him, since he delights in God.” Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. Roaring lions that tear their prey open their mouths wide against me. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment. (Psalm 22)

Sighing has become my daily food; my groans pour out like water. What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil. (Job 3)

We need to be steeped in the colossal biblical struggles with suffering. In Job 28, miners go digging deep into the Earth. Where can wisdom be found? No one can get it. Only God has it. So, because wisdom belongs to God, being wise means fearing God and shunning evil (28:28). This is exactly how Job himself is identified in 1:1 — a man of wisdom. And yet, Job’s wisdom gives no answers in all his sufferings. And when God finally appears, God himself doesn’t offer any answers either. In all Job’s waves of pain, there are no answers to be found.

This take on suffering in the book of Job is difficult. It dashes all human attempts at explanation — only to respond with a confounding non-explanation of “In the beginning, God”. This is the very deepest pessimism about “answers”.

And this is right where we belong. It is within this pessimism about explanations that we turn to seek God together.

We join in the cry, “My God, why have you forsaken me?”

We turn to our God, the God who took up that cry himself, the God who bore our pain and suffering, the God who died.

The cross of Jesus is no answer at all, and that is where we belong.

And this must lead us, firstly and finally, to pray together to the God of all comfort (2 Cor 1:3).

– – – – –

* If you are not in this place, please read Don Carson’s How Long O Lord!

We have a few friends who have been experiencing the most devastating loss and the most cutting grief — things for which they bear no responsibility.

What are we to say?
Are we to explain some purpose in their suffering?  Any attempt to theorise with or inform our friends about their sufferings is crushing.  The words of Romans 8:28 — “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” — are simply appalling.  The experience of suffering is exactly the wrong time to theologise about suffering.*
In other words, we’re not to “say” anything.  We mourn with those who mourn (Rom 12:15).  We give voice to grief with the most gut-wrenching and searching words of pain.
Have mercy on me, LORD, for I am faint; heal me, LORD, for my bones are in agony.  My soul is in deep anguish.  How long, LORD, how long?  Turn, LORD, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love.  I am worn out from my groaning.  All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.  My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes.  (Psalm 6)
How long, LORD?  Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?  How long will my enemy triumph over me?  Look on me and answer, LORD my God.  Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.  (Psalm 13)
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?  My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.  I am a worm, not a human being; I am scorned by everyone, despised by the people.  All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads.  “He trusts in the LORD,” they say,
“Let the LORD rescue him.  Let God deliver him, since he delights in God.”  Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.  Roaring lions that tear their prey open their mouths wide against me.  I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint.  My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me.  My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.  Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet.  All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me.  They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.  (Psalm 22)
Sighing has become my daily food; my groans pour out like water.  What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.  I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.  (Job 3)
We need to be steeped in the colossal biblical struggles with suffering.  In Job 28, miners go digging deep into the Earth.  Where can wisdom be found?  No one can get it.  Only God has it.  So, because wisdom belongs to God, being wise means fearing God and shunning evil (28:28).  This is exactly how Job himself is identified in 1:1 — a man of wisdom.  And yet, Job’s wisdom gives no answers in all his sufferings.  And when God finally appears, God himself doesn’t offer any answers either.  In all Job’s waves of pain, there are no answers to be found.
This take on suffering in the book of Job is difficult.  It dashes all human attempts at explanation — only to respond with a confounding non-explanation of “In the beginning, God”.  This is the very deepest pessimism about “answers”.
And this is right where we belong.  It is within this pessimism about explanations that we turn to seek God together.
We join in the cry, “My God, why have you forsaken me?”
We turn to our God, the God who took up that cry himself, the God who bore our pain and suffering, the God who died.
The cross of Jesus is no answer at all, and that is where we belong.
And this must lead us, firstly and finally, to pray together to the God of all comfort (2 Cor 1:3).
– – – – –
* If you are not in this place, please read Don Carson’s How Long O Lord!

A few of our friends have been experiencing the most devastating loss and the most cutting grief — and things for which they bear no responsibility.

When things are so raw, what are we to say?

Are we to explain some purpose in their suffering?  Frankly, any attempt to theorise with our friends about their sufferings is crushing.  The words of Romans 8:28 — “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” — are simply appalling.  The experience of suffering is exactly the wrong place to theologise about suffering.*

In other words, we don’t “say” anything.  We identify ourselves with them in love (Rom 12:15).  With them, we give voice to grief with the most gut-wrenching and searching words of pain.

Have mercy on me, LORD, for I am faint; heal me, LORD, for my bones are in agony.  My soul is in deep anguish.  How long, LORD, how long?  Turn, LORD, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love.  I am worn out from my groaning.  All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.  My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes.  (Psalm 6)

How long, LORD?  Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?  How long will my enemy triumph over me?  Look on me and answer, LORD my God.  Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.  (Psalm 13)

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?  My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.  I am a worm, not a human being; I am scorned by everyone, despised by the people.  All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads.  “He trusts in the LORD,” they say, “Let the LORD rescue him.  Let God deliver him, since he delights in God.”  Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.  Roaring lions that tear their prey open their mouths wide against me.  I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint.  My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me.  My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.  Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet.  All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me.  They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.  (Psalm 22)

Sighing has become my daily food; my groans pour out like water.  What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.  I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.  (Job 3)

We need to be steeped in these colossal biblical struggles with suffering.  In Job 28, miners go digging deep into the Earth.  Where can wisdom be found?  No one can get it.  Only God has it.  So, because wisdom belongs to God, being wise means fearing God and shunning evil (28:28).  This is exactly how Job himself is identified in 1:1 — a man of wisdom.  And yet, Job’s wisdom gives no answers in all his sufferings.  Even when God himself finally appears, God offers no answers either.  In all Job’s waves of pain, there are no answers to be found.

This take on suffering is a difficult one indeed.  The book of Job dashes all human attempts at explanation — only to respond with the confounding non-explanation of In the beginning, God. This is the very deepest pessimism about “answers”.

It is right here, within this pessimism about explanations, that we turn to seek God together.  We join in the cry, “My God, why have you forsaken me?”

We have something Job did not.  We turn to our God; the God who took up that cry himself; the God who bore our pain and suffering; the God who died for us.

The cross of Jesus is no answer at all — and it is the place to be.  It will not explain things to us, but it may yet be our strength for today and our hope for tomorrow.

All this must lead us, firstly and finally, to pray together to the God of all comfort (2 Cor 1:3).

– – – – –

* If you are not in this place, do take the time to read Don Carson’s How Long, O Lord: Reflections on Suffering and Evil. Is Don, is good.

Categories: Uncategorized Written by Arthur

Tagged as:

Arthur Davis

Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

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