I will never forget the story of the Pastor who was backing out of his driveway on the way to church and accidentally ran over – and killed – his three-year-old child.
It was the first time in my walk that I was confronted with a tragedy that no tidy one-line response could be anything but an obscene insult.
Do you have an answer as to why that tragedy happened? If you had been there, you would have no doubt felt the compulsion to say something to explain it. It is in our nature, because when life is out of control, fear compels us to somehow “grab the wheel” – grab the controls of rational explanation.
Job faced far worse. He lost all his family except his wife. And she was no help! Although, we tend to criticize her for telling Job to “curse God and die” (she was wrong) – not considering the agony of a loved one who watches her mate suffer beyond belief and is helpless to stop it – not considering it was her children who died too – not considering that her reply was in any event, more human and more honest than Job’s friends.
There is an important modern life similarity to how we handle extreme tragedy as believers. So many people in the throes of horrendous anguish of loss and suffering, death and bereavement, speak out of their rage, their overwhelming hurt, their sense of violation. “Why did God do this? I HATE Him! I wish I were dead!” And, in rush “Job’s friends” to encircle and pontificate and tell them, “You shouldn’t be saying those things! Don’t you know God is a good God?”
Yes, He is – beyond our wildest dreams – which is why these observing “wise” people aren’t incinerated on the spot for their arrogance in correcting people in their pain. We deny bleeding hearts permission to feel, to cry, to rage, to scream, to question why. Unless you have suffered such a loss, you cannot grasp how it feels – like a helpless butterfly, stuck through the heart with a pin, your wings of hope ripped off as you agonize in complete helplessness and terror.
Rather than provide quick, easy answers to the person’s pain-blinded outcries, we would do well to do what Job’s friends did at first: “No one said a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great.” (Job 2:13b)
At some point though, they broke their silence and began an endless series of monologues about why this happened to Job – and how he should – and shouldn’t – respond.
I think I know part of the reason why they – and we – feel so driven, so compelled to rush in and fill the void of someone’s loss with an endless stream of words.
They – and we – were terrified. The silence of exquisite, cruel, seemingly meaningless suffering and loss screams at us: “If it happened to them, a good, godly person, it can happen to me too!” Suddenly we’re faced with the reality that godliness is not an immunity from suffering – sometimes incomprehensible suffering.
So we chatter, whistle in the dark, and send forth unrestrained explanations and “reasons” to gain rational control of the event – and to distance them from us, and their suffering as well – (It’s because they sinned. They didn’t have enough faith. Surely I’m not like them…) We do it to keep their devastation away from our safe, non-suffering world, and to avoid the truth: It COULD be me. It might YET be me.
I came to understand this after my father died. Mom had died two years before; the loss of my father was so overwhelming that I thought I would not survive it. Except for three friends, who did the kindest thing – simply loved and wept with me – the rest neither sat in silence nor offered words. They just…..vanished. Hid. Ignored. I wrote about this in my book, “Silence and the Distance Between Us.” “I know why. I’m your future. I am the ghost of Christmas future, the Death Mask…They, too, will face this.” Death comes to everyone, and loss; it is easier to just stay away from those who have lost loved ones, because it reminds us that we, too, are not immune.
Some people – a very small handful, will know a minimal amount of suffering in their lives. Many more will suffer illness, loss of employment, stray children, death of parents, a spouse or children, the betrayal of adultery, the agony of molestation.
Some will suffer so profoundly we can only gasp in horror and rend our garments.
But, Christian or not, suffering WILL come. “In the world you will have tribulation. But be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) And if He did, then so can we. But how? How can we overcome incomprehensible suffering and tribulation?
One word: Emmanuel.
GOD WITH US.
“Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from the Father’s will.” (Mt. 10:29. The most accurate translation of this says, `NOT ONE OF THEM FALLS WITHOUT THE FATHER.” We have interpreted this as, “A bird doesn’t die without God noticing it.”
God doesn’t just “notice.” “Oh, there goes another bird.” No dispassionate calculation: “One down, 3 trillion to go…” Not one falls WITHOUT THE FATHER! Oh, how that speaks to my heart, my deepest pain! It says that Father falls WITH the sparrow – not observer – but organically, feelingly, painfully intertwined with the suffering and death of this tiny creature! “Don’t fear; you are of more value than many sparrows!”
If our Creator-Father, who with one hand strew trillions of stars casually into the cosmos, was so intimately woven into the suffering, gasping last moments of what most see as a “scrap bird” – an annoyance – a plain and numerous and personality-less bird…
…then you must know how infinitely MORE He feels – knows – experiences – and is intimately ONE with your own suffering! He is neither dispassionate nor a divine accountant in your pain, distantly transcribing your every word and action in your agony. He is EMBRACING you, feeling you, kissing your tears and knowing your deepest cry.
Do you believe that?
Something happens in those terrible moments. It is a divine wrestling match, you, screaming to get away from both the pain and the God you think caused or allowed it…
…and God, squeezing you to the floor, not letting you go, shouting, “Let me hold you! I know! I feel ALL that you do! Give me your pain. I will give you…Myself. My healing. My heart.”
Suffering is a mystery and I defy anyone to package simple answers for it. But I do know that if Jesus means anything, He means a God who isn’t “God sees us” or “God notices” but GOD WITH US. Not running from our pain or hiding from it, not judging, just…THERE. Intimately there in every tear and heart’s cry.
The answers to “why” may or may not come. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. Some tragedy is random, senseless and pointless. I do know that in your suffering, you can know without doubt that “God is at work in ALL things to produce good.” And your suffering will become the next sufferer’s embrace and kindness of God through human arms. As Amy Carmichael said, “The end will explain all things.” I believe that. Trust in God’s goodness. Know that He understands the brokenness of your heart and the often angry and bitter words spoken through grief.
But if you can, in your dark night of the soul, embrace Emmanuel – “God with you” – in the end, the need for answers will recede into the real, eternal, unfailing intimate love of our God who has said, “I am with you always.”
He is present in your pain.
He is with you in your worst suffering.
He is there to heal even your deepest hurts.
He is Emmanuel.
By Gregory Reid
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