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Jesus Will Let You Suffer

She was five, and her question was sincere, “Dad, God doesn’t want us to get hurt, right?” Her father, my friend, responded, “God loves you. He keeps you from being hurt.” This thought struck me because days earlier the toddler of a famous Christian musician was run over by a car. Sadly, forever sadly, the little girl died. Now, I don’t think my friend was wrong in telling his little girl that God keeps us safe; the little girl is five, and that’s decent theology for a five year old. But that is horrible theology for the rest of life.

The right statement, the theologically correct and painful answer is, “Jesus doesn’t always keep us from being hurt, but He is always with us in the hurt. Jesus will let you suffer.” When we turn Jesus’ primary concern into protecting our comfort and comforting our expectations, He is not Jesus anymore. He just a character formed in our imaginations.

I think Jesus answers the little girl’s question as He deals with the suffering and death of His friend, Lazarus. In John 11, Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, sent word to Jesus about their brother’s worsening condition—fully confident of Jesus’ care and capabilities, knowing Jesus would rush to Lazarus’ side healing him as Jesus had so many other people. Jesus crushed that confidence and hope with His delay, letting hope turn to despair, letting sickness turn to death.

This is not pretty. This is difficult. While God didn’t create suffering He will allow it. I tangled with this idea, and the reality of the suffering in my life, through my college years. It wasn’t until seminary that I began to embrace a God that allows suffering while loving us in it. One of my professors, a jolly, huggable type, lectured on these things daily. He was brilliant, teaching from a foundation of logic, philosophy, and scripture. He said God grants human freedom, and with freedom comes the possibility of human choice, and with human choice comes the possibility of choosing evil and causing suffering … which we did in the beginning and inevitably do now.

Due to Adam and Eve’s initial act of rebellion (the apple incident) this world operates in a fallen imperfect state, so we end up with a world with natural disasters and horrible accidents. We rage with God over these horrors ... but only have ourselves to blame. Ever since the apple incident ,humanity is born into a state of sin, a state of living in opposition to God, a state of making decisions that can cause suffering. Remember, none of this was God’s original design. He created a peaceful, perfect world. We tainted it with our desire for independence.

I used to wrestle with the idea that God could’ve created a world where the possibility of evil didn’t exist, and thus suffering would never enter the human experience—that would be a world without true freedom. I’m not sure we can come to a resounding conclusion over this thought, but I think, perhaps, an evil greater than man’s rebellion would be for a good God to withhold freedom from His creation. And suffering becomes inevitable in a world where imperfect people aren’t robots.

The professor also said that God doesn’t desire to bring about His purposes in this world through suffering, but when people choose evil and cause suffering God is willing to use it for His purposes and our good. As my small mind processed and began to believe those truths I came to terms with the suffering in this world and with the pain in my life.

I imagine Lazarus and his sisters were consumed with doubt and confusion for those two days: Where is the man who loves us so dearly? Jesus’ delay is a clear statement to all of humanity that He will let us suffer—He will delay coming, delay rescuing us. God is not primarily in the business of preventing pain in the lives of His children.

I don’t like the evils that plague our world – the sickness and abuse and cruelty. And while I don’t pretend to know the answer for every evil under the sun I do know that God is not blind. God sees our suffering. “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. ‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked. ‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied. Jesus wept.” (John 11:33-35, italics mine).

Jesus wept.

Jesus ordered for the stone to be rolled away. The end of the story is more comforting than the beginning. The dead man, still wrapped in strips of linen, walked out of the grave. A new man. Rescued.

Don’t let His silence or delay confuse you about His goodness. There is no suffering in which Jesus will not walk and weep with you. There is no hurt the power of God can’t bring new life to. In the proper time Jesus will make His way to your tomb, roll the stone away, and bring life to the dead. And the tears formed from mourning and doubt will flow with joy and gratitude.

Russ Masterson is a husband, father, child, friend, and pastor in Atlanta. He also teaches, through microphones and keyboards, and blogs at http://www.liesioverheardinchurch.com/.

17 Comments

85,162

tadt81 commented…

I don't what religion you practice, but a god that "suffers" wouldn't fit into a Judeo-Christian-Islamic view of god. Sometimes you can only understand what a thing is by knowing what it is not. Even so, the assertion that you can only know love through suffering is disturbingly masochistic.

85,162

tadt81 commented…

"If we disobey, this is where suffering comes in."

Yes, every Christian nation that has ever suffered a devastating natural disaster only suffered it because they were disobedient Christians. Yes, that makes a lot of sense.

Oh, what's that? Oh, you detect a dash of sarcasm in my response. You say not all of them were disobedient, only some, and that those people were the ones who brought on the disaster. Like how New Orleans was ass-ended by Katrina because of all the gays. Yes, that makes even more sense - a loving, merciful, forgiving god that punishes you for the "disobedience" of others. I hear ya - let's throw all the gays and lesbians into concentration camps and "love" the sin out of them.

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tadt81 commented…

"Sometimes it takes tragedy/heart break for us to realize how much we truly need God, not in order to take us out of the pain,because sometimes He uses that to refine us and refining is not a great warm fuzzy feeling."

Yes, but only "sometimes", as you put it. I know that god never gives you a load you cannot handle or learn to handle, but when the suffering results in your death, there's really not much personal refinement to be had, is there?

What refinement or improvement could possibly be happening when a two year old child drowns and is broken under the immense weight of a tsunami? Please explain to me where god's love is in that situation. If it was supposed to be some kind of test that the child could have survived, where was god's restraint? If it was a test, the degree of difficulty was inordinate to the child's delicate age.

What's the use of putting a child on this earth only to kill it shortly after?

Or was the child's death a test in itself? For the parents, I suppose you might suggest? So, the price of the father's or mother's refinement was the child's life. A fair price, is it?

85,162

tadt81 commented…

Your analogy ignores the concept of predestination. Assuming you believe in an omnipotent and omniscient god, you would necessarily have to conclude that god "caused" you to fall.

85,162

tadt81 commented…

"He knows that we need these things to prepare us for the future."

Do the sufferings we experience prepare us specifically for similar trials in the future, or do they condition us psychologically and emotionally for suffering in general? I'm only asking because what you put down read so hazily in meaning. If a man was in a traffic accident and lost the use of one leg, and then much later in old age was in another traffic accident and lost the use of his other leg, what would you call that? Inadequate preparation, or just plain lousy luck? Don't laugh - that was my uncle.

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