When either yourself or people you know and love are suffering, and no matter how much you pray, no matter what you do to try and be the answer to your prayers, no matter what is said, there is simply no answer?
The current riots in London, the city where I work and very close to where I live, have left a lot of people afraid, confused and angry. Violence and fear are powerful weapons, and often we feel like there is no hope. At these times we can be at our most cynical – we see negativity wherever we look, and people often blame religion or the church. People wonder where God is, and use events like this to justify their lack of belief in God.
Even as someone who follows Jesus, I find it hard to understand why circumstances like this keep on occurring – and this applies not just to events we see on the news. It applies to circumstances our own lives too.
For example, when my mother died no one tried to pretend everything was okay. My friends all knew that no amount of words were going to change the fact that my mum was gone, and she wasn’t coming back.
No amount of words of encouragement or assurances of prayer were going to quell the pain and the confusion I was feeling, the anger I felt at God for taking my mum away from me, and with my mum herself for – as I perceived it in my anger – her abandoning me.
Nothing could solve the problem.
My mum was gone and there was nothing either myself or anyone could do. It hurt. It didn’t make sense. It wasn’t fair.
There have been other times in my life too where I have felt like it was about time God cut me – or my friends – a break.
That enough was enough, it was time for action.
You ever felt that way about a situation?
Times when you know no words are enough to help friends. No amount of encouragement was enough. And there was nothing – or only a limited amount – that I could do practically, and you have just had enough and want God to intervene right now and do something.
When I go through those experience, I personally don’t doubt God’s existence – though I have done in the past.
But I do get angry with Him.
I do question Him.
I do wonder what exactly the bigger purpose or plan is – and all I can do is pray and trust that God will deal with it, that He knows better, that He will use this somehow.
In scripture James says these times can actually be the most fruitful times – that we are blessed when we suffer, when we are in a low position. However, when you’re going through it, or when you are sitting watching the news and getting angry at the violence and unnecessary suffering in the world, I know that’s probably not what you need or want to hear. It’s easy to say everything’s going to be okay, or God will sort it out, or God loves you, in those situations.
The problem is that especially to someone who doesn’t know God – and often even to those who do – it’s not convincing. Actions & circumstances take away much meaning from those words, and saying those things in those circumstances at the wrong time can even make the situation worse.
So instead, I’ll just share my experience when I went through those emotions, when I felt hopeless and angry, bitter and upset, at circumstances.
Having been at very low points in my life, at various moments – with major domestic problems growing up with parents constantly fighting, and then losing my mother relatively young – and come out the other side (and life now is by no means easy to be sure), I can testify to to truth that the hardest times can be the times we grow the most.
That the times we suffer, or when we allow ourselves to share in others suffering and cry out on their behalf, those times are times when God does a lot of work.
In those times, we have no hope but God.
It’s us or Him.
There’s no inbetween. He really becomes our only hope, He is really all we have left.
We can easily let go in those moments, and totally understandably. But it’s in those moments of doubt, those moments of utter despair, where we have almost no one else left and we are even doubting God, that we are actually closer to God than ever. It’s those times that God is with is in a way no amazing religious experience in a meeting can ever replicate.
At those moments we are at our most honest with God, and we join with Jesus as He said “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” – and we cry it with Him.
I am not here today to give you all the answers. I merely write this to give you hope.
If you are in a position where you feel all hope is gone, where you have nothing left, where it feels like God has abandoned you or someone close to you, if you are angry at what’s going on the world and blaming or questioning God – whether Christian or not – remember that Jesus Himself has been even there.
If you’re angry at the injustices and suffering going on in the world, or in pain at some circumstance in your life – like I was – please believe me when I say that it was not God that started this suffering or who deliberately is causing it – and the God I follow is as upset – and maybe even angry – as you are at the injustice, suffering and violence in the world, and I know from my own experience, that far from being distant and removed, God really does share in the griefs and sorrows that we go through in our own lives.
It may not seem that way now, I’m certain – so please bear with me whilst I explain.
If you feel that way, if you blame God for all these circumstances, if you’re angry with Him, there is one thing I would recommend – tell Him.
Just tell Him.
I firmly believe that it is those moments, where you are at your most raw, where you ask God the most challenging of questions, where you wrestle with Him over real issues that really matter and you don’t seem to have the answers to, that you can meet with God and encounter Him in the most intimate and powerful ways.
It won’t suddenly make all your problems go away.
It won’t necessarily give you every answer or make it easier.
But it is the first step on the road to healing and restoration, the first step toward reconciliation, the first step toward understanding.
Going back to when I lost my mum. When it first happened I closed off. I didn’t get emotional for a long time. I buried my feelings. I was angry at God, and thought it unfair and unjust. God was meant to love me, and yet this had happened. It made no sense and there seemed no way out. For a long time, I buried it all inside and just got on with it. I thought that was what I was meant to do, I wasn’t allowed to let God know, He just knew better and I just had to get on with it.
But in the end it just made things worse.
Only talking about it, and being honest with myself and with God, actually made any difference.
I shouted at God. I told Him exactly how I felt. How angry I was with Him, how unfair it felt, how I blamed Him for it, asking Him again and again just why this had happened.
I never got an answer. Well, not in the way I expected. But I eventually realised I didn’t need one.
I just needed to get this stuff out of me. I needed to be honest with myself and with God, and only when that happened could I start to make any sense of what was going on. God hadn’t taken my mother away, what happened was a consequence of the world we live in. It was no ones fault – and in hindsight, so much good has come out of her passing, it has been used for so much good in my life, and now, eleven years later, I see that it was the right time.
That though it may not have been God’s original perfect plan, it had been used for great things by a God who loved me – and who throughout the whole time, had been with me.
Even when I was the most angry with Him, He was with me.
Eleven years on from that, I can honestly say this. There is a new day. There is resurrection after death. Jesus didn’t give up everything for no reason. However black it may seem, believe it or not God can bring you through – and He can redeem anything and anyone, no matter how black. He can bring light out of darkness, life out of death – and I know this to be true because it’s what I have seen in my life, and in the lives of others I know who have been through dark times.
Jesus has been exactly where you are. He was abandoned by all His friends and followers. He was unfairly convicted. He was physically tortured to the brink of death and then executed naked. Totally alone. With no gurantee of what would happen yet, apart from His total faith & trust in His Father.
He squared up to death itself – and He did overcome. And if you stick with God, it may not all sort itself out simply, it may not be easy, it may not turn out how you hope.
But when it is all over – and it will end – God will still be there. If in that darkness you had to courage and honesty to be open with God, then when you reflect back in the future, you will realise the sheer power and intimacy of that moment of raw honesty, when you were compelled to be real with God – and remember the closeness of God in that moment.
I hope what I’ve shared hasn’t infuriated you. I also have no intention of making this sound any easier than it is. I know that life isn’t easy. I don’t have all the answers and I am not without my own sin. I can’t solve all the problems of the world and I often find them as hard to understand as anyone.
I merely hope that by sharing my experience of this, that it can be of some help. If you or someone you love is not suffering right now, I can assure you, there will be a time it happens, and I hope this may be of some help at those times.
Not to provide all the answers. But maybe to offer some hope, from someone who has walked that path himself more than once in his life – and still does at times – and has survived.
If you’re in that moment now, or when that moment comes, just be honest with God. Just say what you think.
Don’t hold back. God can take it.
How do you feel about suffering?
Do you blame God for any suffering you’ve experienced or the problems of the world?
Are you willing to be honest with God about how you feel?