Where is God when Life Hurts?

IMG_5355

Book pages, torn and tattered, lay scattered like breadcrumbs along the muddy trail in front of me. Disheartened by the littered mess, I bend down for a closer look. My heart sinks further as I recognize holy words displayed on the pages in front of me.

At first glance, it seems they are pages from the Bible. But, then I see an unfamiliar heading of Mosiah (not a book in the Bible) at the top of a page. Gathering some of the pieces, I research the words with my phone, soon concluding it is the Book of Mormon, strewn like a forgotten jigsaw puzzle across the forest floor.

For me, seeing the Book of Mormon torn to pieces disturbs me just as much as seeing a Bible, or any other holy book, in the same condition. What causes someone to walk along a quiet, beautiful trail ripping out pages, pausing to tear them into tiny pieces and scatter them into the distance?

Some pieces were tossed along the sidewalk, others face down in the mud, between blades of grass or leaning against tree trunks. This act took considerable time and effort to accomplish. What was this person feeling? Anguish, despair, defiance, confusion…emotions which cut raw and deep, making us ache.

Along the paper trail, did this person cry out, “Why am I suffering?” or “Do you hear me God?!”

Do you think the questions were answered?

We long to know.

Because honestly, at some point in life we all feel such pain and probably ask similar questions. And, often we feel like our most difficult questions are met with silence from God.

In the Bible, we learn about many people who faced dire circumstances and proclaimed their frustration to God. They talk of feeling hurt, abandoned, unheard, and confused. One of these people was a man named Job.

The Bible describes Job as an outstanding man with whom God was greatly pleased. He was wealthy in terms of livestock, possessions, children, and health. Through no fault of his own, he lost it all. His livestock, his home, and his children were all taken from him. Then, a painful disease of sores overtook his body.

His friends, desperate to make sense of the tragedy, reasoned that sin must be causing his suffering. They told him he must confess his wrongdoing. This was not a particularly sensitive way to comfort Job, but he examined his heart for sin nonetheless. After coming up empty-handed, Job rightly maintained his innocence.

Clearly, Job was devastated that the God he worshipped allowed such immense pain to pervade his life. Throughout his struggle, Job did not try to hide his overwhelming anguish and grief. At one point, overtaken with emotion, he exclaims that not being born would have been better than being forsaken by the God he loves.

“At last Job spoke, and he cursed the day of his birth.” Job 3:11 New Living Translation (NLT)

“I have no peace, no quietness. I have no rest; only trouble comes.” Job 3:26 (NLT)

In the midst of all this hardship, Job’s faith undergoes a lengthy and mighty test. Conflicted about trusting God to pull him through, he repeatedly asks why he is suffering. He easily trusted God’s plans when life was going well. But, once life became really difficult the extent of his unbelief became clear to him.

Faith wavered and questions surfaced. He faced a choice of either giving up on God or relying on him like never before. God’s silence did not make his decision easy. For thirty-seven chapters in his story, Job challenges God for answers and receives silence.

If I have sinned, what have I done to you, O watcher of all humanity? Why make me your target? Am I a burden to you? Why not just forgive my sin and take away my guilt? For soon I will lie down in the dust and die. When you look for me, I will be gone. Job 7:20 (NLT)

I cry to you, O God, but you don’t answer. I stand before you, but you don’t even look. Job 30:20 (NLT)

After listening in silence for quite some time, God offers Job a revelation by asking him a series of questions no human could answer – things only a creator could know. The questions, focusing on things like the earth’s creation, forces of nature, star constellations, and the animal kingdom were certainly beyond Job’s comprehension (Job 38:1-41:34). Answers to the questions were not expected; God wanted Job to grasp his sovereignty and trust his care. 

Job wonders, if he cannot fathom these things about creation then how can he possibly understand God’s reasoning and ways in other matters? The questions spark an AHA moment in him as he realizes that God has a bigger and better picture of the world than he does. The magnitude of God – his wisdom, power, justice, and grace becomes clear to him.

Job “sees” God in a deeper way than ever before – a way that humbles him and strengthens his trust in God’s plans for him. Job’s question, “Why am I suffering?” is not directly answered by God, but it suddenly becomes irrelevant in his mind. He understands everything God allows into his life is meant to prosper him – even his struggles (Jeremiah 29:11).

If Job’s trouble had left quickly or the answers came easily, he would not have been enlightened in such a profound way. God ultimately increased Job’s faith to the same extent that he allowed it to be challenged. 

“But Job replied, ‘You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?’ Job 2:10 (NLT)

“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”… “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42:2, 5-6 New International Version (NIV)

In our lives, stories like Job’s inspire a fondness for popular quotes like these:

  • “I am thankful for my struggle because without it, I wouldn’t have stumbled across my strength.” -Alexandra Elle
  • “We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.” – Thomas Fuller
  • “Hard times are sometimes blessings in disguise. We do have to suffer but in the end it makes us strong, better, and wise.”  – Anurag Prakash Ray

It’s motivating to quote words like these when life runs smooth, simple, and good. Ironic, though, how when life takes a hard turn, these quotes are difficult for us to believe in. Like Job, we think we have faith. We think we trust God no matter what happens. But, struggles can surprise us with doubt. Trouble quickly brings us face to face with the depths of our unbelief.

And, that’s okay. God is not surprised by doubt. He understands raw emotions. In fact, the Bible tells us he aches with us. He knows the “why” questions and the desire for quick answers are part of human nature. God waits and endures like a loving parent. He trusts us to deepen our faith and allows us to embrace our own AHA moments.

Where is God when life hurts?

He walks the path beside us and silently picks up the pieces. He wants so much for us to trust his plans in good times and in bad. He hopes that a stronger relationship with him will ignite our faith like never before and lead us to share it with others.

Building a deeper relationship with God in the silence means we work on understanding his Word, trusting his love, and being patient for his promises. We can ask him to use our suffering to help others who suffer. Our hope can bring others hope. Our experience changes how we see God and the world. It allows us to actively search for and carry out his good works with a fresh pair of eyes.

Then, when another trial comes, as it surely will, we can pray, trusting him to meet us in the silence and piece us back together again.

A few things to remember from Job:

  • Faithfully loving and serving God does not provide an exemption from hard times.
  • God does not cause our suffering, but he may allow it. This does not mean he is insensitive to it.
  • We may not receive an explanation for our trial, but putting our trust in God strengthens us, provides hope, and ultimately, works for good.
  • Our struggles can be used to deepen our faith and that of others.
  • We cannot always control what happens to us, but we can always choose our response.
  • God created us with emotions, and it is always okay to express them to him.
  • Although God may feel far away, the Bible tells us he is omnipresent – everywhere at the same time. He is always with us, even if we cannot sense it.
  • God wants us to learn how to share our faith with the world. In struggles, we can either respond with “why me” or “use me”.

A Poem for your Week:

IMG_5517

The Hope Tree
by Jamie Trunnel

Passing this tree for a few weeks
Feel like it has a message to speak

With three solid trunks, it had stood tall and proud
Then a storm raged and two hit the ground

Now I see it standing there, broken limbs at its side
Stripped to the core, nowhere to hide

I think I know how you feel I say to the tree
Like you’ve been ripped in half and no one sees

They said you’d bend, but not break
They lied; it seems too much to take

Listen, I whisper, I’ve been here before
It’s so hard, but I finally found the hope you implore

Don’t look down at what’s fallen away
Look up, look up for what’s here to stay

May God bless you in your trials and in your celebrations. 

For more on how to get through hard times, see these previous posts.