My wife recently gave birth to our fifth child. He’s pretty awesome, though I am a little biased. In a mysterious way, I love him despite having only known him for a short time.
But there was a time, shortly after he was born, that my love could have been called into question.
I saw my son being hurt, and I did not stop it.
A nurse came into our room to draw his blood for a round of tests. From my chair, I watched as my son laid sleeping more peacefully than most days he’ll ever know in his life. As the nurse approached him, I knew what was about to happen. So I stood up and took his hand as she uncovered his newborn skin. A small needle was readied and I watched as it pricked him.
And there I stood, right next to him, not doing anything to keep it from happening.
My son awoke with a shriek. He shook and screamed and squeezed my finger as tears ran down his peach fuzzed cheeks. I was larger than the nurse, and I could have made her stop. But, because I love my son, I let her wound him.
Moments like these can often be overlooked, but for whatever reason, God helped me see that He loves me in a similar way.
Good, Good Father
The Bible tells us that God is a heavenly Father for all who have faith in Jesus (John 1:12; 1 John 2:23). Our Father sees all, knows all, and is more powerful than all. Yet we too have experiences in life where someone or something swoops in, uncovers our peaceful rest, and pierces us in terrifying pain. And all this happens before the eyes of a Father who says He is good.
While the problem of suffering and evil cannot be resolved in this brief piece (or in any of the massive volumes that have attempted to do so), I want to share a few truths I was reminded of as I held my son during his introduction to the pain of our world.
1. God is there.
Few things are as isolating as pain. When we suffer, we feel like no one can really understand what we are experiencing. And the fact is, no one does. Proverbs 14:10 is correct in saying that “the heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy.” People can weep with us, but no one can really enter into the depths of our sorrow.
Yet, no matter how alone we feel, we are never ultimately alone. Our heavenly Father is there.
King David knew much suffering as many of his Psalms testify (Psalm 13, 27, 38, 40, 61-63). But in His pain, He had peace because He knew that no matter where he went, He could not escape God’s presence.
“Where shall I go from Your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there! If I make my bed in the grave, You are there!…If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night, even the darkness is not dark to You; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with You.’” (Psalm 139:7-12 )
Even the darkness is not darkness to God. This means He is present in your pain. No pit of despair is too deep. No sea of sorrow is too vast for Him to find you. He is not far off, though He may feel that way. He is there, not just holding your hand, but your very life (Psalm 54:4).
Do you doubt His presence? It is understandable if you do. I have doubted it before.
Most of us who have walked with God have had moments (or long seasons) of wondering if He has abandoned us when we needed Him most. The path of sorrow has led us all into the dark forest of fear. Yet God gives the light of His Word to help us travel through that place. He tells us that He is with us (Psalm 23:3), that nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39) and that He will never leave or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6).
So when you feel like He is not there, tell Him (Psalm 13:1-4). Admit when you question His love (Psalm 77:7-9). Cry out to Him knowing that He catches each of our tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8). Ask Him to prove that He is “near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).
Pray honest prayers in the darkness. As you do, remember that our peace comes not from us seeing God, but from knowing that God sees us.
2. God could make it stop.
One of the most hopeless feelings we can have is when we recognize that we can do nothing to stop our pain. The clouds are too dark. The storm blows too strong. The valley runs too deep. Suffering stands with its immovable foot on our neck.
But hear this truth: God could make it stop.
God could, at any time, tell whatever is piercing you to cease, and it would. He has that kind of authority (Psalm 115:3). He oversees every falling bird (Matthew 10:29-31) and tells the oceans where to stop (Job 38:8-11). He is the all-powerful and completely-in-control Ruler of all things.
This means that when the storms of suffering surround us, we know that God could say “Peace! Be still!” and the winds would cease (Mark 4:39). God could end your pain at any moment. There is not one person or thing stronger than He is (John 10:28-30).
Though some doubt His power, a day is coming soon when it will be seen. One day soon, He will crush cancer and terrorize terrorists and heal wounds and open graves and sew up sorrows. Yes, on that day, all His tear-catching bottles will be put away for they will be needed no more (Revelation 21:1-5).
Now, it is at this point that some will mock and say, “Where is your God?” (Psalm 42:10). If He is real, then why does He sit back with the power to stop your pain, but not use it now? This is an essential question and one that has an all-important answer.
3. God is doing good to us in our pain.
If my son could have spoken when he was being pricked, he may have looked at me and asked, “Father, why have you forsaken me? Why do you just stand there and say you love me and hold my hand, but refuse to stop the hand that is hurting me?”
I have asked God these kinds of questions before. Have you?
God is not surprised or offended by our questions. Yes, we ought ask them with humility and reverence, but do not doubt that God desires His children to look to Him with their wondering hearts.
But as you look, know to Whom you are looking. Psalm 119:68 says: “You are good and do good; teach me Your statutes.”
Did you hear that? God is good and does good. Good is who God is and good is what God does. These truths are the foundation on which all hope is built. God is not only there with you in your pain, but He is doing good to you through your pain.
This is why I arranged for tests to be done and blood to be draw. This is what kept me from pushing away the nurse and her needle. I love my son and wanted to do good to him, so I allowed him to be hurt.
Listen to how Jesus explains the way our heavenly Father does this perfectly: "Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him.” (Matthew 7:9-11)
God perfectly knows how to give good things to His children.
This means that if it is good for us to have bread or fish, then He will give it. And if it is not good for us to have them, then He will not give them to us. But we can rest in this fact: because He is good, He will never give us what is ultimately bad for us - not one stone or snake.
This passage (and the whole Bible) teaches us that God knows what is good for us, and He knows it in a way that is far above our ability to comprehend. His love is a purifying love that always aims at us knowing His peace and holiness (Hebrews 12:3-11).
God the Father not only sees, but also ordains, arranges, allows, orchestrates and oversees every bit of pain and adversity that come into our lives. He is not a reactionary God, reduced to merely reacting to evil or pain.
God is the author and orchestrator of all things. He does no evil, but He oversees all evil in such a way that He uses it to bring about ultimate good for His beloved children (Genesis 50:20; Job; Psalm 33:4; Romans 8:28 ).
How could God use your spouse’s grueling battle with cancer for good?
How could people hurting you for so many years be used for your good?
How could Him not answering your prayers for help or healing be for your good?
I do not know.
There are many mysteries which God claims are His secrets (Deuteronomy 29:29). The gap between my wisdom and God’s is infinitely wider than the gap between my son’s understanding and my knowing that the pain of his pricked heel was ultimately good for him (Isaiah 55:8-9). I trust that one day we will have insight into His wisdom, but we rarely have it in full in this life.
I realize that many of you who read this have and are facing unspeakable pain. I trust that you know I do not mean to make light of any of it. I, too, have known much pain in this life. I write this as a fellow sufferer, not an expert on what exactly is happening to you.
Rather, my hope is to help you come to the place where you believe that in Christ, we have a good heavenly Father who is wise enough to ordain our pain and loving enough to use pain for our good and strong enough to stop our pain when it ceases to be good for us.
This kind of assurance helped a man named John Calvin in the days following the death of his own son. Though tears Calvin said, “God is a Father and He knows what is best for His children.” This has been the testimony of many of God’s children.
This kind of assurance flows from a display of love in the midst of suffering that puts all other suffering into perspective. God shows that He is a good Father ultimately by giving His Son to suffer in the place of people like us (Romans 8:32). The cross and empty tomb are the supreme examples that God cares about evil and is able to overcome it. In your dark days, look to the One who shines light into our darkness and take courage that One day soon we will be with Him (John 8:12 ; Revelation 22:1-5 ).
Oh Father, help us to trust You and know that You are good and You do good. Help us to believe that You are present in our pain, strong enough to stop it, and wise enough to use it for our good. Help us to not lose heart, but to give our broken hearts to You to sustain it. Send Your Son soon and end all our anguish. Amen.