How can we trust God in times of suffering?
Suppose someone else could give us a sound biblical explanation for our suffering; would it take away the hurt?
Let’s imagine you had green fingers (perhaps you have) and enjoyed every minute you spent gardening (perhaps you do). One night, while you’re asleep, a stranger decides to trample on your rare exotic plants that you’ve spent years rearing and caring for. And let’s imagine I turned up and offered you a whole list of sensible comments: that the weight of heavy boots will inevitably crush tender stems and delicate blossoms; that you should have put up a fence or grown a taller hedge; that whoever did this to you might be emotionally unstable or have had an unhappy childhood; and so on. Would any of this remove your sadness?
The classic Bible story on this topic is about a God-fearing man, Job, who loses everything despite his godliness. His friends turn up and try to find a logical reason for Job’s unspeakable suffering. They fail. The only thing that helps Job is that, after a long period of doubt and anguish, he is finally able to hear God’s voice again. Job has lost his old faith: that God will always bless the righteous. But he has found a new faith: that, in the midst of suffering, God is still there and on his side.
It is worth remembering that, 2,000 years ago, Christians were thrown to lions; that less than a century ago six million Jews and countless other victims of the Nazi terror went to the gas chambers; that on 26 December 2004 a Tsunami took a quarter of a million lives in a single day.
Perhaps it’s easier to believe in God’s goodness when all this suffering affects other people far away, but harder when that suffering comes closer to home – affecting us or someone we love. An important step on our faith journey – and it is an uphill step – is to recognise that the whole world is full of suffering, and to empathise with its suffering.
The step after that is to realise that God won’t always answer our prayers. The Book of Job tells us not to waste too much time on working out why. But it encourages us to hold on to God as we struggle with pain and bewilderment. As the Psalmist puts it, ‘Even if I go through the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid, Lord, for you are with me.’ (Psalm 23.4)
The final step is not ours. As his friends finally fall silent, God begins to speak to Job. The Bible’s message to us is: That day will come. Nothing will be sorted out in a jiffy. Nothing will be explained in full. But God will speak, and through the fog of confusion and sorrow we will again be able to hear his voice.
This article was written Michael Pfundner, who works in our publishing team.
Updated November 2019