2. “I feel your pain.”
God feels our pain in two ways. First, God feels your pain. God’s emotional life is tied up in our every action and experience: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30).
Second, God was betrayed. In fact, he chose betrayal as the vehicle by which his love for you would be displayed—of all things, betrayal by a loved one. And because of this, “Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me’” (John 13:21). God has felt betrayal.
3. “I did ordain this.”
When I suffer, I want to loosen the theological screws that feel like they’re squeezing a clamp on my head: God couldn’t have ordained this, at least not if he’s good. But we must veto our heart’s inclination to outsource our authority from Scripture to our emotions. Emotions are important. But they never dictate external reality. Our passionate preference for how he should have conducted our life quickly becomes a conviction that God couldn’t have conducted it at all. Of course God would have done it my way.
Suffering forces us to come to terms with an emotionally unresolvable reality: “My hand laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens; when I call to them, they stand forth together” (Isaiah 48:13). There is nothing that occurs outside his sustaining and intentional will. He blesses and curses. He gives and takes.
God’s sovereignty makes God an easy target for blame and accusation. And he, with compassionate understanding, returns love for accusation (Romans 2:4).
4. “The suffering may not end here.”
Every well-meaning Christian wants to make the promise to themselves, “This will end.” As Tim Keller once said, the notion that God will certainly end your suffering in this life is not only misinformed and incorrect, but an insult to the billions for whom God does not end many multiple forms of suffering.
The key in this life to decoding uncertain and unbearable circumstances is not spiritual assurance, but spiritual realism. We may wish Job’s friends were right, and God were a legalistic lever of retribution and reward. Then at least we’d have a little control over our suffering. Then at least we’d have a little hope for change in our helplessness. Then we could bring our innocence and our suffering to God and scream: Traitor!
But, betrayal assumes broken terms. And as much as we want to include circumstantial comfort with God’s promises to us, it’s not what God said. We’ve been tricked by Western comfort, and by our own flesh. The truth is, God has never given us terms of comfort or circumstantial peace in this life. God groans with us, “This is not how it’s supposed to be.”
Then what use is God to our suffering if he ordains it and doesn’t promise to end it? My response to suffering is typically either to take the world by charge—frantically doing anything and everything to fix things or relieve the pain—or to curl up in a ball of self-pity.