Is God there in suffering? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
I’m still looking at my discussion with the Mentionables about Tyler Vela. I want to emphasize in this that none of this is meant as an attack. It’s meant to speak to those like Tyler who are suffering in divorce and wondering where God is in the suffering. It’s a common question and as one who has gone through that suffering and is going through it, I get it.
We often have an idea that God is to be near when we are suffering. David’s Psalm of repentance says that a broken and contrite heart will not be despised. He is supposed to be near to the brokenhearted. How can this be true when the heavens seem to be silent?
It makes sense to us. What do we want when we’re in pain most often? Comfort. We want something to either stop the pain or guide us through it. We are in a society where we are quite often addicted to comfort. We do not often know how to handle pain and deal with it.
I can speak as someone who has gone through all kinds of pain. I have had major back surgery, my gallbladder removed after that put me through intense pain, intense toothaches, panic attacks, major depression, a marriage where numerous difficulties happened for me, followed by the painful rejection of divorce.
I’m not a stranger to pain.
In all of these, I am sure God has been with me, but I cannot say I have had major signs of His presence or anything of that sort. I actually consider that a good thing. Now when my back surgery took place, I had no crisis of faith. If anything, the chaplain in the hospital was impressed with the way I handled things.
My panic attack stage was different. This makes sense really. i suspect we often hate emotional pain far more than we do physical pain. This was a time of years where I spent crying out to God in agony, even when I went to Bible College. What brought me out of that? The study of apologetics. It was learning about what I believe and why and coming to some real ideas of who God is.
In all my tears, I did not have an unusual experience of any sort.
If I had, I might never have embarked on the path I was in. I would never have been in the walk of a greater walk that I am in now. I would never be getting to live out these truths and share them to others and help them in their distress.
That is one advantage of being divorced. I can help others who have gone through it. It is definitely a blessing that I get to help others and it means so much that my writings help other people out who are struggling. That is one reason I am writing this. It might not help Tyler, but it can help someone else, it is worth it.
How is God near to us? It’s not necessarily in feelings. It could just mean He is there. You might not experience Him, but He’s there. Just because He is there, it doesn’t mean He has to make His presence manifestly known. You have to be told you are not alone. If anything, we could say you have to be told that because you are NOT experiencing anything. Why would anyone need to say God is near to the brokenhearted if every person who was brokenhearted was convinced He’s obviously there?
That’s really hard to trust, but it needs to be accepted. It’s easy to be angry with God for not giving something that He never promised. Many of our disappointments with God are based on false ideas of what we expect and especially what we would do if we were God.
Those times of supposed silence can lead us into something deeper. That’s what happened for me, and it is better to have that than to have an experience that will not last. This is not to say that experience is never valid, but that experience needs to be rooted in something more certain. Every experience is interpreted. How do you know that emotion is from God? It feels good. Why not be a Mormon? They think that feeling is really good. A lot of Ex-Mormons still hold the burning in the bosom is a real sensation and a great one.
What does one do then when God seems silent? Trust. Trust what He said and the promises He made. Some could say that this is circular, but it isn’t. It’s an internal test for consistency.
Suffering is hard. I’m thankful I also had several friends with me who helped me with the grief too. I have my hobbies also. I also could rely on thinking about the empty tomb and the resurrection and the reasons I know God is real. This is not something that makes the pain go away. It can make it bearable, but that largely depends on how you handle it.
It’s also important to not pursue a feeling. Our Christianity is not based on a feeling. It’s based on holiness and trust.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)