When Suffering Gets Personal
As a ten-year-old, I lay awake the night before Easter speculating about what would be in my Easter basket. Would it be fluorescent marshmallow chickens, chocolate bunnies, foil-wrapped Hershey eggs, or a surprise?
We expected my college-aged brother to arrive home sometime during the day on Easter, too. I had prayed for him as I often did for family members, that God would see him safely home.
God answered that prayer, “No.”
Pounding at the front door awakened me to early Easter morning darkness and the news that my brother and his friend had been killed by a drunk driver. Agony overtook two families.
When we observe suffering in the world at large, it sometimes shocks us; it may trouble us. But we find answers. Sometimes people suffer as a consequence of their own sin: a criminal goes to jail; a cheater gets caught. But often, suffering comes from other sources. We live in a fallen world. God doesn’t remove us from it or spare us from the results of the fall, but he will sustain us when we encounter suffering and use it to build our character. Finally, we frequently are puzzled about the reason for suffering. Job didn’t know the heavenly dimension to his suffering.
When suffering is personal, however, it wrenches our gut and knocks the breath out of life. At those times, the reasons for suffering may not satisfy our wounded souls. The question, “Why?” may not even enter our mind. Instead, we stumble numbly through the darkness of loss.
A husband leaves, war touches our life personally, a toddler dies in the night, a family member is stricken with a degenerative disease. A new, scarier question creeps into our thoughts.
“Can I trust you, God?”
I have asked that question again and again over the years since my brother’s death, without always being aware that I was asking it. Can I trust you with my future, Lord? Can I trust you with my children? Can I trust you when my husband is knocked unconscious? Can I trust you as old age is visible on the horizon? And the satisfying answers I receive don’t come from the latest article on suffering. They come from walking for decades in a relationship with my Father. They come from choosing, again and again, to look to God, my rock and redeemer, knowing he is the One who not only allows the storm but also calms it.
If you are aching from unexpected suffering or facing the unknown, put your roots down into the Word and your hand in his. Here are some verses to get you started: Jeremiah 17:5-8; Isaiah 26:3-4; Matt. 6:25-27; Luke 8:22-25.
Patiently wait for God alone, my soul!
For he is the one who gives me confidence.
He alone is my protector and deliverer.
He is my refuge; I will not be upended.
God delivers me and exalts me
God is my strong protector and my shelter.
Trust in him at all times, you people!
Pour out your hearts before him!
God is our shelter! (Selah)
Psalm 62:5-8 (NET)