Christianity is often portrayed as unable to withstand the weight of reality, and I understand why some people would feel that way. As a younger person, I had a passion to share with others my conviction that the Bible and the Christian faith can more than take on our intellectual doubts. Having had my fair share of questions, I deeply desired for others to feel free to ask questions without thinking that Christians believe use of the mind is antithetical to faith. I still believe that the church should be a safe place to bring our questions about God, but these days, I am experiencing a deepening of another conviction about Christianity and how it relates to reality. Namely, that not only can the Scriptures withstand our intellectual questioning, but that the vision of God and life laid out in it withstands the full range of human experiences, especially suffering.
There are many wrong ways to think about suffering and trial. We may expect that as Christians, we won’t face difficulties because we are children of God, not realizing that Scripture says he disciplines those he loves and that we are meant to receive difficulty as his discipline for our holiness (Heb. 13). We may think of trials as punishment from him, not knowing that the Scriptures say there is no longer any wrath left for those of us who are in Christ (Rom. 8). We may see suffering as meaningless rather than purposefully given to us from a loving Father for our good (Ja. 1, Rom. 5). Or we may not realize that God may be purposing to comfort others even as we suffer and receive his comfort. (2 Cor. 1) We may miss the richness of God’s purposes accomplished through our difficulty in a myriad of ways, so I am grateful for the way that God has been forming my understanding of suffering through theologically sound preachers, teachers, and books.
Lately though, I am finding that as I’ve grown in the knowledge of these rich truths about God’s purpose in our suffering, I have often failed to grasp the full picture given in Scripture and thus erred in the application of some of these truths in my life. Slowly, I have begun to think that since I know these things, my experiences shouldn’t feel as hard and I tend to try to think of hardships clinically and analytically. There has slipped in the subtle wrong view that an understanding of the joyful and glorious final purpose of God in and through our sorrows means I ought not to so sorrowful, and there is a temptation to push through in my own strength.
God is showing me these days through the Scriptures that oftentimes he doesn’t expect or ask me to respond in the way I may feel I ought to. I am experiencing that as one who is struggling, I find good company in the stories and poetry of Scripture, and that there are deeper measures of comfort in it than I had previously thought.
I want to encourage those who may be in a similar place as me to search the Scriptures for a view of God and pattern of the Christian life that may be richer and more sufficient than you had thought it to be. In it, you will find that God not only gives the space to grieve, but that God graciously give voice to our pain through the prayers and experiences of the saints gone before us. Open up to the Psalms. Look especially at Psalm 88, and consider that the prayer of faith doesn’t always end with “But I praise you still, God” but may, for the time being, just mean learning to turn to him with our deep sorrows before we have all the answers. For those who think the Bible is silent on depression or that God is harsh with us in it, there is 1 Kings: see Elijah and his amazing victory over the prophets of Baal, his subsequent fear and darkness, how he prays that God would take his life, and how God responds with tender provision of his needs. See how accurately Lamentations expresses how it feels when God brings hard things; it is a book full of laments to God. Read Job and Jeremiah and see how real and raw the Bible is in representing our experiences of pain, and how both heroes of faith were so distressed that they cursed the days they were born. And consider our Savior himself, a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” (Is. 53)
Some may be like me, feeling that what I know about the good that God brings through the bad means I shouldn’t be having such hard time. Others may be told by others in their suffering to just try harder, just have more faith, just believe that things will get better. But consider that living by faith is not always to feel victorious and empowered. It may mean pleading with God to take away that thorn and hearing him say that to be in his power means that we stay in our weakness (2 Cor. 9). To experience the truth that, “weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning,” (Ps. 30:5) means having to first be in the darkness, and as we wait, it may feel that the first light is so far away that death will be upon us first. Yes, we believe that those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy, and that gives us a firm hope for what is to come. But knowing that there will be joy to come does not mean there aren’t tear-drenched pillows and cries for deliverance that for the moment feel like they are going unheard. And though on that glorious Sunday the disciples witnessed the resurrection of Christ, can you imagine the agony and confusion of the days in between the cross and empty tomb?
I am especially encouraged by the exhortation to “wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lam. 3:26) because that is often all I feel I have strength to do. I admit that I am experiencing firsthand why it is good to wait quietly. In difficulty, I have often responded sinfully out of how I feel. Rather than speak from what I know and have experienced to be true of God, it is tempting to speak in bitterness, sarcasm, and unbelief. I thank God for the blood of Christ that covers over those sins and that the power to respond in faith, not unbelief, comes from him. Still, there is comfort in knowing that we are not condemned for being in the waiting and that he is pleased to show himself to be the God of salvation to those who wait for him.
And there is a new kind of gratitude I am finding grown in these times. Gratitude that the God of the sufferers and strugglers of old, in grace, has given us the treasure of writings forged in places of darkness to accompany and lead those of us who are still in the waiting, searching for signs of the arrival of dawn.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:14