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At a time when our lives have been fundamentally changed by the coronavirus pandemic many people have been asking: Where are you, God?
People have lost their jobs, people are sick, people have died and more continue to die.
So, where is God in the midst of our suffering?
I recently found myself asking this same question, but it wasn’t because of the coronavirus.
My sister was diagnosed with cancer seven months ago. Six months later, she passed away. Her illness and death were devastating. I had many moments where I was angry with God for taking her too soon. I still miss my sister terribly and I always will.
But as I walk through the grieving process, I have begun to understand that God does not condemn us for our feelings or our questions – or even for being angry at Him.
I believe God sometimes uses our suffering to show us where our hope is and where it should actually be.
We tend to put our hope in things, places and people. When things fall apart – when the doctors can’t save our loved ones or the job we thought was so secure suddenly vanishes – we also fall apart.
Suffering reminds us that we cannot control everything that happens in our lives, but we can control in whom we put our trust.
The Apostle Paul wrote about trusting God in the middle of suffering in one of his letters. Scholars believe that what he describes in this passage was an actual near-death experience:
“For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us. On Him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-10 ESV)
Whatever it was that Paul experienced, it clearly caused him intense mental, emotional, spiritual and perhaps physical pain. But it was in the middle of this excruciating experience that he remembered God was his only hope.
If you are grappling with the question of God’s presence and power in your suffering, you are not alone. As you try to process what is happening around you, I encourage you to think about these three things.
It’s OK to give yourself a break to feel angry and sad when bad things happen in life.
Feel your feelings
Be honest with yourself and with your loved ones about how you’re feeling and what you’re going through. To deny your feelings is to deny who God made you to be.
I take great comfort in the fact that Paul was so vulnerable about his suffering. He confessed that he and his companions “despaired of life itself” and “felt that we had received the sentence of death.” While it’s tempting to think that Paul was superhuman or flawless, he was just as human as we are.
It’s OK to give yourself a break to feel angry and sad when bad things happen in life. We need to give ourselves permission to feel, so God can heal us, and others can help us.
Pray for perspective
When you are hurting, it is easy to give up on prayer. But don’t stop praying. Cry out to God, tell Him what’s on your mind and heart. Ask Him to give you perspective on your suffering. Be willing to wait for His response.
Psalm 34:18 says: “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”
We sometimes may think that because we are experiencing pain God is far away from us, but He is a lot closer than we realize.
Land on truth
Don’t allow hard times to make you question everything you know about God, your family and your friends. Don’t let one thing lead you into questioning everything you know to be true and foundational.
Turn to God’s Word in your suffering. Read what He has to say to you. Speak aloud or write down who God says He is and who God says you are.
In the middle of suffering, Paul and his companions reminded themselves of who God was: “He raises the dead,” He had “delivered [them] from the deadly peril” and He “will deliver” again. This is why Paul could boldly say, “On Him we have set our hope.”
When you start to feel depressed by your suffering, pause, and reflect on what God has done for you in the past. He is an unchanging God, and we can confidently set our hope in Him.