Guest Post: Where Is God in Our Deepest Suffering? by Tim Branch
Do you ever feel like things can’t possibly get any worse, and then they do?
2020 has felt that way to me. It’s been full of sickness, isolation, injustice, division, and deep pain for so many people.
On top of all the global and national crises, a tornado ripped through my home city of Nashville— just weeks before the pandemic began. It wiped out people’s livelihoods and left them ill-prepared for what would come next.
And the thing is, in the middle of our shared suffering as a global and national community, personal struggles are still very present. Loneliness, depression, loss, anxious thoughts, tensions in marriage, family, or between friends, yearning for children or a spouse or change…the list can go on and on and on.
I know I’m not the only one who has thought, “Where is God in all of this??”
When the world and my heart feel completely upside down, it’s easy to think God is MIA.
Have you ever found yourself asking God where He is? Have you ever convinced yourself that He has left you alone to suffer?
I can’t help but wonder if the people of Israel felt the same way.
In the book of Jeremiah, the prophet writes a letter to the people of Israel who had been carried off to Babylonian exile after the fall of Jerusalem. I’d imagine that, when they received the letter, the people of Israel were feeling so many things:
Yearning for home, fearful of hostility from the Babylonians, Anxious about their future.
I bet they thought God had left them alone to suffer.
And right in the middle of all that fear and anxiety and suffering, Jeremiah shares these words from God: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (Jeremiah 29:11-13)
How can this be, when everything had gone wrong?
Somehow, God wasn’t surprised that these horrible things happened. And He seemed to promise that every horrible thing would eventually work together for their good and His glory.
I’m sure the Israelites were skeptical. They were probably wondering the same thing I’ve been wondering throughout 2020:
“If Your plans are not to harm us, then why all the pain and suffering?”
I read a lot of stories in my free time. And I’ve started to notice an astounding pattern:
In every great story, the main character has to go through some kind of deep suffering before they become new and better and more fully themselves.
Think about Frodo’s journey in the Lord of The Rings trilogy, or Edmund’s story in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Both characters suffer and fail and walk through devastating hardship.
But somehow, those struggles unlock something amazing within each of them, and they become something brand new—something beautiful. They become who they were originally intended to be.
And I’m going to say something uncomfortable: You have to wonder if they would have ever become who they were meant to be without the struggle.
Elizabeth Elliot writes in her book, Suffering Is Never For Nothing:
“I’ve come to see that it’s through the deepest suffering that God has taught me the deepest lessons. And if we’ll trust Him for it, we can come through to the unshakable assurance that He’s in charge. He has a loving purpose. And He can transform something terrible into something wonderful. Suffering is never for nothing.”
Is it possible that suffering and struggle creates something inside us that couldn’t be created otherwise, and allows us to become who we were originally designed to be?
Maybe God writes our stories with suffering so that He can bring us closer to Himself and make us into who we were always meant to become.
And if we listen, we might be able to hear him show us that story in our lives.
It has always stuck out to me that Jesus still has His scars in heaven.
Somehow, that brings him even more honor than if his hands were perfectly healed. It’s as if the pain he experienced made the ending that much better.
What if we, too, will bring our scars into heaven as part of our new body, to help tell the wonderful story of God’s redemption?
What I know is this: God knows the plans he has for us. Those plans have always been to prosper us, not to harm us.
We may not always understand the plan, which can be so hard and heart wrenching. But the Master Storyteller is always, always at work. His heart for us is good. And because of that, He deserves to be trusted.
If you are struggling with the pain of the world or the pain in your own heart, take courage. God is writing a most beautiful story—a redemption love story for the ages, in which you will be made new.
BIO:Tim Branch is a blogger, former ministry leader, and Chick-fil-A enthusiast. He writes at timbranch.com, a blog about how to understand yourself and grow into who God originally designed you to be.