When Life Is Painful

Author: Anish Thomas 

Sometimes life can be incredibly painful. It can become easy to question God’s goodness when the weight of our pain overwhelms us. The pain can shift our thoughts to places we never thought we would go. We can struggle to fully believe. If we were honest, our hearts, at best, are more like the father in Mark 9:24 who tells Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief!” This can particularly be true when we try to understand our pain in light of God being sovereign.

I find myself questioning God and why he is doing what he is doing more than ever. There have been times where I felt like he was indifferent and distant. I would ask with incredible confusion and bitterness,

“How can this be good?
Why do you take it away when you said it was good?
Are you punishing me?
Am I just a pawn for your kingdom?”

Suck it up buttercup! Romans 8:28! Yes, this verse is great and true, but if I am honest, hearing that God is doing something good with my pain does not always satisfy my heart and mind. You can get tired of hearing it casually applied to your pain. It does not always quiet the whispers in your heart that ask, “Does God care?” “Is He cruel?” “Am I just a pawn?”

Verses like Romans 8:28 are beautiful and true, but it is easy to miss its beauty when we fail to consider it in light of the whole counsel of God of which scripture speaks. Our perspective on our pain changes when we allow all of God’s character to inform His sovereign plan.

For example, a pawn is something that is gladly sacrificed with no care of it or its well-being.

But God is deeply involved in us and our feelings. He grieves with us and enters into our pain.

I hold on to verses about Jesus weeping (John 11:35), being near (Psalm 34:18), wiping away our tears (Revelation 21:4), or being deeply moved by our pain:

For no one is cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone. | Lamentations 3:31-33

Jesus enters our pain by grieving over it.

He has helped me understand what that is like through friendship. I remember sharing deep pain over the phone with a friend. I couldn’t see his face, but I heard the deep shock and hurt he had for me as his voice shook. I realized how much he was for me. He was willing to enter into my pain and share my grief. This grief was due to losing a close friend to suicide. I put on a strong face in public, but I find myself battling with anxiety, confusion and anger as I replay my last conversation with him. He asked me, “Does God understand my pain?” I wish I could go back and share all of this with him. Not because I think all of his pain would go away and he would be fine, but because he would know this sovereign God cared enough to enter in his pain that nobody else fully understood.

C.S. Lewis portrays this well in his book The Magician’s Nephew. A little boy named Digory is going to Aslan. Digory is incredibly scared of him, but he goes to ask Aslan to heal his sick mother:

Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great front feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself. “My son, my son,” said Aslan. “I know. Grief is great. Only you and I in this land know that yet. Let us be good to one another.”

Jesus enters our pain by experiencing it.

Our sovereign God knows our pain firsthand. He was a “Man of Sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3). His sorrow was not self-absorbed, but a sorrow centered on entering into the pain of others. He doesn’t answer our pain, anger, and doubt with a cold indifference.

He responds with a heavy heart that says “I know.”

Pain may not go away. And it may get much worse before it gets better. However, despite my pain and because of the cross, I am starting to find comfort and hope knowing that the one who says, “I know” is the one who is working all things out for my good.

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights. | Habakkuk 3:17-19

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