I work in Pastoral Care. In my first year in the job, 2014, four families in our church tragically had children die. Aged between 5 hours and 30 years, these four families walked the unimaginable journey of grief that only a parent burying their child knows, on my watch. There were a lot of funerals I attended that year. As a Pastoral Care Pastor in a large church it's part of the deal, but I will never every forget those four. The thing that astounded me was not the grief and pain - I expected that - the thing that was shocking was that each and every family stood up in their child's funeral and testified to the goodness of God.
While my grief will never compare to the grief of the families involved, I discovered that year how hard it was for me to just walk in the background of the pain that was around me. It was exhausting! I knew that without proper self care I would not last long in a pastoral care role. One of the keys I have found was finding in myself the confidence to truly believe that God is really good.
There is a lot of writing about why God allows suffering in the world. I'm not going to offer a comprehensive answer to a complex theological question. I just want to offer a few key verses as an encouragement that God is good. These verses give us the peace we need to walk away from the hurt around us and sleep soundly knowing that a good God is at work.
God is not the creator of evil and suffering
God's intention was never for us to suffer. He created a world without pain, death and grief. God gave us the freedom to choose to love him, which also gave us the freedom to reject him. God's end goal was always relationship, not obedience. It was the choice of Adam and Eve to reject God that brought sin into the world. It is sin that brought suffering into God's perfect world, and with sin comes death, pain, and suffering. Our world is broken. Our bodies are broken. But we have to remember - suffering is the consequence of sin, not the punishment for sin. Jesus took care of that!
Suffering is not the end of the story
We look forward to the end of the story when suffering is defeated. This gives us incredible hope! Heaven is real, and when we have faith in God we can have confidence that one day all of our pain will be wiped away. It's hard to live with an eternal perspective, but when we lift our view to the timeline of eternity, the struggles we face each day diminish.
God can use suffering to accomplish good
God doesn't cause suffering, but he does use suffering. This is hard to get our heads around, but I see it everywhere I look. Kelly Clarkson said it well "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." We learn so much about ourselves when we endure difficult times, and we learn a lot about God in those times too. I only learned of God's faithfulness and provision during a time in my life when I couldn't provide for myself and God came through.
There are numerous examples in the Bible of where God turns a tragedy into a blessing. Just read the story of Joseph! Joseph was sold into slavery as a young man by his jealous older brothers, he was falsely accused of rape and imprisoned, but God had not abandoned Joseph. He became the Prime Minister of Egypt and led the nation and its surrounding countries through a seven year drought. Joseph saved his family from starvation. What his brothers meant for harm, God used for good.
We can choose how we respond to suffering
We can get bitter, or we can get better. We can reject God, or we can be driven deeper into relationship with him. God is involved in our suffering. He truly understands! Jesus suffered. He knew all about what it feels like to be rejected, falsely accused, beaten, crucified. Jesus avoided suffering. He pleaded with God the Father to avoid the cross. Jesus' ministry alleviated suffering at every possible encounter - healing the sick, raising the dead, welcoming the lonely.
This should be our response to the suffering in the world around us too. As the people of God we do all that we can to alleviate the suffering around us. But, at the end of the day we can trust a hurting world into the hands of a caring God.
Even though suffering is all around us, we can have faith in a good God who truly cares, and trust Him to be at work in our pain. Suffering was never a part of the plan of God for us, it is not the end of the story - we can look forward to an eternity without suffering. We can invite God in to our suffering to give us comfort and peace, to make us better, not bitter.
What verses are an encouragement to you when you are in a difficult situation? What verses do you share to encourage those around you who are hurting?