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The irrational hope of suffering

Many of my friends, and even my own family, are going through exceptionally hard times these days.  We're wondering why God seems to be indifferent, almost callous.  God seems to treat us in a way we'd never treat our own friends and family.  My wife and I are questioning every major decision we've made in the last 2 years, wondering if God's promise was a joke.

Would you allow your son to feel abandoned?  You're daughter to experience unrelieved pain?

I'm pretty good at trusting God when I know what he's asking me to risk.  If I'm unmistakeably hearing his counsel, I know he intends on rescue in one way or another.  But when I can't hear a thing - no direction, no counsel, no One ... It is then that trust is forced into a deeper place:

Will you trust me when you hear nothing -- when the knock on the door isn't answered.  When the storehouse is barren.  When the promise feels like a slap across the face?

I'm learning that the only way to move from a theology of hope and trust, to a quake-proof, threat-defying confidence is to let it play out.  Remember:  things are not always what they appear to be.  Our assumptions about what is going on may be inaccurate.  We need to let this play out so that the confidence Jesus had in the bow of the boat being bullied by wave and wind becomes ours.  We need this trial so that the goodness of God's heart - deeply for us -  can be exposed:

There are many truths of which the full meaning cannot be realized until personal experience has brought it home.  - John Stuart Mill

This isn't a stone-hearted dismissal of loss and pain, the kind of unaffected counsel Job's friends offered him.   Rather, know that I'm heart-sick at the level of suffering some of my dear friends and those closest to me are experiencing.  My own family feels tossed about like a dog's chew toy --  Daily rage against unanswered prayer, tears wept as I stand behind my house hunched over in abandonment.  

Then there are the fleeting moments of ever-increasing strength.  A growing noble courage I don't think I've ever felt before. 

My hope is being coaxed, hardened and honed because of the suffering, and not in spite of it.  I don't want to cower before every threatening cloud.  I don't want to be tossed about by every wind:  but I will be unless I allow this chapter in the story to summon a strength that is becoming indominable, not fooled by circumstance and reason.

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Reader Comments (8)

Jim it takes great courage to write words of hope and assurance when you yourself are down in the depths - your 'light at the end of the tunnel' isn't visible because the tunnel's bent.
You so wish you would have a happy, prosperous ending such as Job had, but you just don't know if that was a one-off thing. He had no idea his life would be restored even more than ever. It feels worse than overwhelming to be so helpless. (I can imagine this is how you and so many others could feel.)

But what shouts at me is that you're not accusing your Father, you're not doubting his character, you're not giving up. You're telling yourself that he does care: He does, even if it isn't evident in the natural - yet. He's brought you this far and won't forget you. You give out to us and we want to give to you. What I can give is my prayers, and I will. Wish I could give you dollars galore but I need them too - lots! But He has more than all the banks in the world, and your time will come. Remind yourself constantly that HE IS GOOD.
Thanks for the statements of trust, hope, and light. Love to you all.

May 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJenny

Thanks, Jenny for your encouragement. My faith lately has often included doubt, for sure, and rather unkind characterizations of God: But to STAY there until it calcifies into raging unbelief leads to something worse than pain. It leads to meaninglessness, and I won't have that. Thanks again.

May 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJim Robbins

I can add my statements to that of Jim's as we are walking this very painful road together. I have "felt" so betrayed by God, of late. Thinking that I have stepped out so often in faith, trust and risk -- and somehow I should be rewarded for this kind of faith with relief in the midst of new suffering and answers in the midst of myriad questions.

When both of us are walking this painful road, it's both a good and bad thing. Good that we can weep and/or rejoice together -- bad, because one isn't necessarily strong when the other feels weak.

All I can say is God is Father and loves us. His timing is perfect (though I think my timing is better at times!). He is Who He says He is. Without those facts, I would be lost.

May 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLynn Robbins

Hey Jim...I know that we have been sharing this journey together and sometimes these pains and suffering get the best of us. It is hard to understand what is happening. I look at my daughter when she is hurting and I want to make it go away as fast as possible...so, shouldn't God do the same. But as she has grown older, she faces new trails that she needs to work through, figure out, and then I jump in at hopefully the right moment. I believe that God is there for us and he will help, just maybe not they way we want him to. I heard it said once. "There is God's timing and our timing, and sometimes they meet but usually they are very different."

May 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDoug G

I do not believe for a second that God causes us pain, He loves us, the pain comes from us not listening, doing life our way, forgetting all about Him-The author and finsisher of our faiith. When I try to figure it all out I get frustrated and confused, when I let go and let God work it all out I am calm and at peace. Looking back on my life, the trials and tribulations of living in a very messed up world I know without any doubt God has always been there with me, guiding and protecting even in the worst of times. Heart attack, severe burns, addiction, cancer, financial problems-huge, mental disorders, plainly speaking I was crazy-nuts, God has loved me through it all. When the deciples were in the storm and Jesus were asleep, Jesus did not cause the storm but He stopped it, we can do that as well wwith Jesus in us, with God all things are possible.

May 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGordon Rouston

Hey Doug -- I agree. Though it SEEMS at times that God treats His kids worse than how we'd treat our own, it's a perception -- borne out of pain. That's why we have to keep returning to what we know of God, the rescues we've experienced in the past, and the irrational trust that "bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

May 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJim Robbins

Hey Gordon -- Sounds like you've got a true strength borne out of your own sorrows. Thanks for sharing your heart.

May 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJim Robbins

When I asked God (yelled at God) why? why? Why do I feel this way, even though I know through and through that You are good, that you love me, and that I am beyond a shadow of a doubt called according to your purposes? God clearly lead me to the following verses which bring me great hope.

Lamentations 3
27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke
while he is young.
28 Let him sit alone in silence,
for the LORD has laid it on him.
29 Let him bury his face in the dust—
there may yet be hope.

I would recommend the rest of Lamentations 3 it is far more hopeful than the section I just quoted, but God gave me these verses at the beginning of this season of my life. It was like He was giving me a heads up. "Jeremy, I am going to bring you through a time of loneliness, and even despair. I know the plans I have for you, but you will not see them for a while. This is for you. It may hurt, but it is a gift. I will not cast you off forever." (or something like that).

May 6, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterj reyes

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