Sometimes life throws sticks. Othertimes, daggers.
If you are reading this, I’m guessing you or someone you love is probably in a place of pain.
Just like real injury, the pain is real. Sometimes it manifests physically.
There are many questions one asks when they are going through pain.
Why does this happen to me? Why now? What’s the purpose?
And the subsequent question is appropriate.
Where are you God? Where is God when it hurts?
Let me be the first to admit that there are no easy answers. However, I think what’s painful about suffering is that there is confusion. The first thing that hits when one is going through a season of pain is trying to reconcile and understand the significance of this pain.
I have been reflecting on this reality as of late and have realized something: in a godless world, pain is meaningless.
In a godless world, pain is just a natural part of the evolutionary cycle. It is for this reason that people without God in their lives often turn manically depressed. The pain is real and tangible, but there exists no worldview or perspective that affirms that their pain in meaningful.
However, for people who believe in a God, pain is married to meaning. The God who brought love into the world understands pain. There is no love without pain. For love, by definition, bears a cost.
This article is therefore a tearful and gentle exploration of the meaning and purpose of pain in the lives of believers. Again I reiterate, there are no easy answers. However, I believe that after searching the scriptures and living life with God for many years, the understanding of pain can be reconciled by understanding pain in context to several buckets.
The general buckets are:
- God is refining You
- The devil is trying to kill you
- Yet, sometimes life is just hard
These buckets reflect unique reasons why one undergoes pain and attempts to answer the present question of Where is God when it hurts?
Depending on the type of pain you’re experiencing, one of these buckets may or may not apply to you.
The hope is that if you read this, you will find a sense of hope and a sense of clarity of the movements of God in and around your life. Pain often obscures seeing where God is. I hope that in writing this, you will feel encouragement and hope.
So let’s answer the question: Where is God when it hurts?
God is Refining You
James 1 writes:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.James 1:2-4
James at this juncture is writing to a church that has experienced the diaspora.
What that means is that the persecution experienced in the book of Acts has dispersed the church abroad away from Jerusalem. They are now a people who are on the run, fearing for their lives. In other words, they are now a people in pain.
Yet even as their lives are being threatened, and their possessions and loved ones are being lost, James is writing them to provide a different perspective of their pain.
He writes that when they meet trials of various kinds, they should rejoice because pain is being used to refine them as people.
What is pain in this context?
Pain is the pain of improvement. It is the pain of exercise. It is the pain of the fire of God on our lives as it burns up what is not of his.
God uses hurt and pain to refine us. In a life of pleasure, we are weighed down by many things unnecessary. In pleasure, we can expand, grow, accumulate, hoard things. But in pain, all that is weighed against the strength we now lack because we are in pain.
When I was a very young man I remember how God used deep relational pain in my life to teach me how I sought after relationships to plug up emotional holes in my heart. It hurt. And it hurt really bad.
But there’s something glorious about this type of pain:
We become better people on the other side.
God uses pain to teach, refine, and shape us into people that are different. For a God who cares not about physical appearances but what is internal. Pain is the sharpener and refiner of all that is fluff in our lives.
If you are in this type of pain, consider a perspective that God is doing something within you. Instead of harboring bitterness or offense that God would do something like his, I gently encourage you to instead ask, “Lord, what do you want to do in my life through this pain?”
To the question of “Where is God when it hurts?”, the answer for this bucket is simple:
He is a cheering Father who is dreaming of who you’ll become once you cross the passage of pain.
In this bucket, God is using pain to refine you.
The Devil is Trying to Kill You
Whether we like it or not, we have an enemy of our souls who is interested in our destinies being far from how God designed it.
Sometimes pain is demonic.
And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.Luke 13:16-17
When Jesus healed a woman in the gospels who had a disabling spirit on her where she couldn’t straighten her back, how Jesus understands her suffering is very interesting.
He does not call it happenstance. Rather he describes it as a woman who “Satan bound for 18 years”.
Sometimes our pain is an attack of the enemy.
Pain from the enemy is meant to rob. Similar to how Jesus described the thief in John 10 as one who only came to “steal, kill, and destroy,” so the effect of Satan upon this woman’s life was to kill, steal and destroy.
For 18 years, the pain kept her from living a full life.
For 18 years, the pain kept her from living her destiny.
For 18 years, the pain kept her silent and mute.
We are reminded from this story that we do not live alone on this world. And contrary to our naturalistic understandings of why things are in the world today, science cannot explain everything.
Rather, the Bible sees the world as a influenced by spirits moving in our midst. Some are good; some are bad. And sometimes the pain in our lives is a direct attack from the enemy of our souls.
Sometimes, there is a target on our back because we are called to have a great destiny in our lives. And the enemy knows that, so he will sneak his way into our lives and cause destruction and pain.
Yet also be encouraged! Look at the woman. After 18 years being a slave, she is one no more!
From this day forth, instead a slave of Satan, she is now, as Jesus described her, a child of Abraham. Instead of a half life, she can now live a full life. Instead of living a half destiny, she can live a full destiny. Instead of being silent and mute, she can sing, dance, and proclaim the goodness of God.
Learn the lesson from of woman. For people in this bucket, consider the answer to the question: Where is God when it hurts?
He is waiting for us to call on him for deliverance!
If you are sensing that your pain is not heavenly sourced, call upon God to deliver you from the grip of the enemy. Call godly people to lay hands on you to pray for your healing and your deliverance.
Like this woman, your victory can very well stand on the other side of his deliverance!
Yet, sometimes life is just hard
And here we take a turn of sobriety.
I suppose that if you’re reading this, you’ve already gone through trying to understand life through the first two buckets and they don’t apply to you.
Perhaps you are holding a dying child and wonder where is God when it hurts.
Sometimes, we are just reminded that although Jesus inaugurated his kingdom when he came on earth, the world we live in lives in a tension of “here, but not yet”.
We see a part of his kingdom, but we don’t see the full picture until he comes back again. And in that tensions, sometimes things just don’t happen the way that God intended.
Children die, war happens, cancer happens, conflict arises.
These are all natural ramifications that happen after sin was introduced into the world. We are reminded that we are living in a defected and poisoned existence. We are living in a world, where even all of creation is crying out waiting for Jesus to return so that it can be liberated from this dire state (Romans 8:19).
To such a world, how do we answer the question, “Where is God when it hurts?”
The answer, if you care to hear is…He is near.
Be reminded that he is God of comfort who comforts us in our affliction. When we are in life’s greatest pains, he is not a God who is lofty and sitting far from us in a place where we cannot enter.
Rather, we are reminded that Jesus was called the “man of sorrows”.
Isaiah prophesied about Jesus:
He was despised and rejected by men,Isaiah 53:3
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
We are reminded that before he was a victorious King, Jesus was a suffering servant. He was a suffering servant who humbled himself and made himself weak and vulnerable just like all of humanity.
He was the one who cried when his friend Lazarus died. He was the one who saw with great sadness when the rich young ruler walked away. He was the one who experienced the pain of being forsaken while dying on the rugged cross.
We are thankful and reminded that we serve a God who is acquainted with pain.
And for that reason, the answer to the question of “Where is God” is that he is near.
He who experienced great pain, and continues to do so as he watches humanity murder and destroy themselves to the ground, sits with hand in hand with those who experience pain themselves.
Yes as Psalm 34 says, “the LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
He is the one who is near you right now, holding your hand in your time of trial.
He’s working towards a reality where there is no pain
Yet even with hand in hand, we are comforted by one who knows and sees the future with perfect clarity.
The difference between God holding your hand and any one on earth is that anyone on earth offers a limited experience.
Rather we are reminded that the one who holds your hand is one that can also whisper, “Don’t worry, one day this will all go away”.
We serve a God who is sovereign over the fate of humanity and has a plan he is driving us fearlessly towards. He is working tirelessly towards a day when evil will forever be triumphed and that the people of God finally have a place of rest from their pain and labor.
It is in this place, as we peer into, from the book of Revelation that he promises that he would wipe every tear from our eyes.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone foreverRevelation 21:4
He is longing and waiting for this day where the tears from the eyes of his people will be forever embalmed upon his strong hands.
Even though we suffer on this side of life, we are comforted by the truth that this life is temporary. We are comforted that though we have lost much on this side of life, we are waiting a reward on the other side.
We are waiting for a reality where we are living life hand in hand with a God who will make all things new!
Managing The Pain
Everyone eventually will have to come to their own answers of “where is God when it hurts?”
I hope so far, at least from a broad stroke of things, you can take comfort in several areas where God could be moving in the shadows.
I want to also provide a few ways to help manage the pain. I’m sure you already recognize, if you have strength to hear this, that there are healthy ways to process pain and unhealthy.
I hope I am not finding you at a bar hoping to drink your sorrows away (because you can’t).
Rather, as a person who has experienced pain, great pain, before I want to share some ideas that can help you process the pain with God in powerful ways.
Not Ignoring the Pain
As you may be aware, the way most people manage their pain often is by ignoring it.
It makes a lot of sense and it is a natural survival instinct.
Every part within you just wants to keep it in, ignore it, and continue to move on in life. If you’re a male, there’s an even higher percentage chance that you’ll do this.
However, in doing so, you may end up like people who cannot manage PTSD coming back from war. They exhibit behaviors that are related to their trauma that they can’t explain nor even like about themselves. It happens even decades after the trauma occurred.
Futhermore, and more importantly, I fear that in doing so (If that is your current strategy), I fear that you may be robbing yourself of a gift that God wants to give you.. The good news about being in relationship with God is that, when we walk with Him, there is always glory on the other side of pain.
Psalm 126 writes:
Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.Psalm 126:5
There is a promise for people who don’t ignore the pain, but who walk into their pain with God–they’ll come out on the other side with joy.
If I can encourage you friend, don’t ignore the pain. Instead, here are some things you can do.
Cry Out Before God
One of the most beautiful experiences you can experience is crying out to God.
Psalm 141 writes:
O Lord, I cry out to you, “Come quickly.”Psalm 141:1
Open your ears to me when I cry out to you.
Let my prayer be accepted
as sweet-smelling incense in your presence.
Let the lifting up of my hands in prayer be accepted
as an evening sacrifice.
People think this as a metaphorical or symbolic cry out. If you know anything about David is that he was a man very in tune with his emotions.
He wrote a Psalm to represent the angst of his pain.
He is not figuratively crying out, he is literally crying out.
It is perfectly acceptable and recommended that you go into your car, drive somewhere, and just cry and yell before God.
Yes–yell at the top of your lungs. Bang against the wheel.
Let the tears flow. Let the heart open. Let the pain out from within and towards his throne. It’s okay even to be mad at him. Just be honest before him.
There is nothing you can throw at God that he can’t handle.
He who made the human heart and therefore the full spectrum of the human heart can surely withstand the crying out from his children.
He longs for us to come to him in naked honesty so that he can enter those deep places of our hearts and minister.
Cry out before God.
Spending time journaling and reflecting
Once you have cried out, I recommend spending long and sufficient time to journal.
Journaling is a way to understand and see God in a new perspective.
If you haven’t already, I recommend checking out my resource Journaling for Spiritual Transformation. It’s a small price, but free for email subscribers.
There, I can walk you through how to journal in a way that allows you to hear from God for your life such that you have revelation and strength to continue walking. I know that with the tool you will gain clarity and strength for the journey.
Even if you don’t buy it or sign up, let me provide some guidance.
The most important part of journaling is to journal honestly.
Because no one will read this but you and God, it is important that you are just brutally honest as you write. Write not just to yourself, but pretend that God is an audience there.
Here are some ideas to write:
Write down and name emotions, feelings, disappointments you are feeling.
Write down how you see God moving in your life. Were there moments of grace that you felt like was his gentle touch to help you through this time?
Write down perspectives you feel that God is asking you to take on. Does he want to replace the hurt of your current perspective with one from heaven? Write those things down.
Write down other resolutions that you may feel that God is having you do. It is important to write down the things that we are called to do so that we don’t forget.
Spend time with people who are good at listening
Avoid people who want to give you advice or share their life story.
If there are people in your life that can just listen, and actively listen, spend time with those people.
Galatians 6 writes:
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.Galatians 6:2
We were made to be in community and fellowship with each other. And bearing one another burdens is a reality that God ordained for the church so that we can manifest and exemplify the love of Jesus in our community.
Share your pains and sorrows with someone you love, you respect, and someone you know will listen and just be there for you. Be in active community and grieve with them.
If you have the strength, let them into your life so that your community can joyfully pick up your burdens and be family.
My last recommendation is something that I think people don’t think about.
Grief is not just an emotional state, it’s a physical state.
In case you didn’t know there is actually a condition known as broken heart syndrome. This is medical science’s attempt to realize that body, mind, heart, and soul are all connected with each other in inexplicable ways.
Part of healthy grieving process is being physically active. I recommend something that you easily step into. But even so, many have found success in grieving and processing successfully by going hard into exercise.
The point isn’t to mask the pain. But rather, position the body such that it’s awakened to be able to process emotionally. When we are physically active, the blood rushes, stress is relieved from our minds and hearts, and we enter into a state where we can more properly assess and process our lives.
Talk a walk, lift weights, do some CrossFit.
Take care of your body, and your body will take care of your heart.
Blessings To You
I can’t imagine or pretend to know what kind you are currently experiencing right now. I’m sure there are people reading this that are going through some really tough time.
But be encouraged.
Perhaps you are in some pain and now realize that God is grooming you and refining you.
Perhaps you are in some pain and realize that the devil is trying to kill you and now can take action against him.
Perhaps you are in unresolvable pain and realize now that God will one day wipe away every tear from your eye.
I hope that you are encouraged by the movements of God in your life still.
My joy and the aim of this site is to help readers go deeper in their Christian faith.
In the spirit of going deeper, here are some resources that will help you along the journey of healing.
For those of you interested in what I’ve seen how Christians have devolved because of their pain, consider reading my article on Jaded Christians. I talk about how pain without proper perspective puts us in a state where ware continually robbed.
If you are interested in learning more about this topic, here are some book recommendations.
On the devil’s work in your life, check out The Bait of Satan.
On suffering in general, check out Walking with God through Pain and Suffering.
Was this article helpful to you? What have you learned about pain and suffering?
Leave your comments or questions in the comments below!