Today’s guest blogger is Heather Rice. She is an oncology nurse, with degrees also in linguistics and biblical counseling. Besides counseling at her church, she enjoys hiking, languages, linguistics, Bible study, and her church.
Part 1 of 4
Our culture loves pleasure. One simply needs to read the messages on the inside foil wrappers of Dove chocolates to learn that indulgence is no longer a moral failing but an applauded right. We cannot stand the loss of our sources of pleasure. Issues that are really quite trivial seem insufferable; we feel deprived if our iPhone breaks. I once talked to a wife of a cancer patient who was having trouble clearing her schedule to transport her husband to a critical procedure. She told me, “Can we do it the next week? I’m showing my horse this week, and have hair and nail appointments too. I’m just so busy.” And perhaps that is why the Bible often seems not relevant to us today, because it does not pander to our modern sense of entitlement to a “good” life. So, when true calamity hits, the lack of a deep grounding in biblical truth combined with the mentality of expecting a “good” life leaves us ill-equipped for the cold winds of suffering and death.
So when suffering strikes, what answers do we have for the questions it raises? As a nurse, sometimes I feel like an observer of someone else’s nightmare; my interventions are helpful, but peripheral to the abyss of misery in the sufferer’s heart. None can honestly say we have felt the same type of pain in the same way to the same extent as any other human. “The heart knows its own bitterness, and a stranger does not share its joy” (Proverbs 14:10). There are places in your heart where no one else can go.
But the Bible reveals there is One who knows the innermost agony of our hearts. God, who searches all hearts, “is near to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). When Martha asked the Lord to make sense of her brother’s death, Jesus’ answer to her was to reveal Himself: “I am . . .” (John 11:25; emphasis added). Jesus has experienced our trials and pains and knows us better than we know ourselves (Psalm 139:1-6; Proverbs 15:11; Hebrews 4:13-16).
When you or a person you care for is in the grip of grief and asking, “Why!?” platitudes like, “Just have faith” may sound good, but they are like Kleenex that wipe away tears yet cannot soothe the heart’s agony (cf. Jeremiah 6:18). As pastor Steven Estes and paraplegic Joni Eareckson Tada (1997) say, “Answers, no matter how good they are, cannot be the coup de grace. Purified faith is never an end in itself; it culminates in God…God, like a father, doesn’t just give advice. He gives himself” (p. 124). The bottom line and best answer for suffering is not a reason, but a Person. Estes and Tada (2004) explain: “At that moment of pain and suffering, [sufferers] don’t need the doctrine of the sovereignty of God—they need the sovereign God” (p. 41).
There are many examples in the Bible to encourage us to find the answer in God Himself. When David lost his whole family and his men spoke of killing him, he “strengthened himself in the Lord his God” (1 Samuel 30:6). Asaph, measuring the gulf between happy, indulgent men and his own troubles, cried out, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth” (Psalm 73:25). Hannah, struggling with infertility and made fun of by Penninah, poured out her heart to the Lord (1 Samuel 1:10-16). Paul, after enduring beatings, slander, shipwreck, hunger, nakedness and Roman incarceration, declared that the thing most dear to him was Christ: “that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings” (Philippians 3:10). These were simply people, like you and me. What makes their stories glorious is that they knew Who is the answer to suffering. They testify that, while it may not be obvious now, gaining God is worth enduring any suffering life can throw at you.
Perhaps you are suffering. If you have the Holy Spirit in your heart, He is there to help you cry out, “Abba! Father!” And the Father of mercies will never fail to comfort His child (Romans 8:15; 2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Refuse to allow the pain to dull you to God and His Word; instead, harness it to drive you closer to Him.
Perhaps you are a family member or friend of one who is suffering. When you interact with the sufferer, you don’t need to provide the cure-all answer nor you are relegated to stand by helplessly. In a gracious way, offer Jesus. Be a faithful witness to this God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). A lifestyle of obedience to His Word will give testimony to your own deep love for Christ. Then you can offer Christ in further comforts such as slowness to speak, quickness to hear, and a heart overflowing with compassion.
“Casting all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” – (1 Peter 5:7)
“Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.” – (Psalm 73:25)
Subsequent posts in this series will discuss why suffering occurs and what we can do about it when we suffer.
Estes, Steve & Tada, Joni Eareckson. (Fall 2004). Which God is in Your Sufferings? Journal of Biblical Counseling 22(4), (Fall 2004): 21-43.
Tada, Joni Eareckson & Estes, Steven. (1997). When God Weeps. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing.