Christians often talk about how God drew near to them in their suffering. Some talk about “being carried” through painful seasons. Others talk about experiencing an overwhelming peace in their souls as the world around them seemed to fall apart. Some will even speak of suffering as though it were a season of sweet fellowship with their Creator.
I heard things like this so often from other believers that I almost expected my experience of suffering to be covered in a warm blanket of divine comfort. I knew that God’s children often experienced painful seasons of spiritual dryness, but I didn’t think those times usually coincided with intense physical, mental, and emotional suffering.
I reasoned that God might withhold his presence from time to time to increase our longing for him and help us grow deeper spiritual roots. He might also allow our earthly comforts to be taken away to increase our dependence on him. But surely, he wouldn’t allow both at the same time, would he? If God allowed us to experience deep suffering, wouldn’t he provide us with an equally deep assurance of his love and presence?
I couldn’t have been more wrong. My battle with chronic illness was a season of intense physical, mental, and spiritual pain. I experienced virtually no divine presence or comfort. I felt shut out and forgotten. I could sense myself sinking into despair. Thankfully the prayers of lament in Scripture gave me something to cling to in the darkness.
O LORD, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me? – Psalm 88:14
Though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer – Lamentations 3:8
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? – Psalm 13:1
Reading these verses helped me know that I was not the first person to experience this sense of abandonment. The simple fact that God was not embarrassed to include these anguished prayers of complaint and questioning in his Word brought me great comfort. It was a sign that God cared and that he had answers. If he didn’t, why would he include such unflattering prayers in his Word?
It also showed me that it was okay for me to voice my own laments. It was okay, and even necessary, to bring my raw pain and honest questions to God. God is big enough. He can take it. Sometimes he does not tell us why, but that doesn’t mean satisfying answers don’t exist, and it doesn’t mean that our asking is futile.
I believe that when the answers elude us, our asking and lamenting does something beautiful in us. It moves us towards God even when we can’t see Him. He gradually becomes bigger in our hearts. We start to let go of the illusion that we can fully understand a being who is infinitely beyond us. We stop trying to understand God and eventually learn to trust him. We learn to trust him because of who he is: a God who is infinitely wiser and more loving that we are.
How can we be sure of this love when we are engulfed in darkness? Because Jesus went to the cross for us. Our God has wounds.
Allow me to leave you with a few words from Tim Keller,
Yes, we don’t know the reason God allows evil and suffering to continue, or why it is so random, but now [because of Jesus] at least we know what the reason isn’t—what it can’t be. It can’t be that he doesn’t love us! It can’t be that he doesn’t care. He is so committed to our ultimate happiness that he was willing to plunge into the greatest depths of suffering himself.”1
Ana Harris is a committed disciple of Christ who seeks to glorify God and encourage others through her story. Over the last five years she has walked the difficult road of chronic illness with help from her incredible family and husband, Brett. You can follow her recovery journey atanaharriswrites.com.