The presence of God in suffering

There was probably a small measure of suffering even in Eden (when Adam stubbed his toe on a tree-root, would it not have hurt?). What made Eden such a delightful place cannot have been the total absence of pain, but the presence of God (Genesis 3:8). What has made the sufferings of the human race so unbearable ever since is our banishment from God’s presence as a result of our rebellion (Genesis 3:23,24).

Job’s suffering is compounded by his sense of abandonment by God. His prayers for relief, for justice (or, at the very least, for an explanation) go unanswered. Yet despite his many afflictions, Job holds on to his conviction in the goodness and justice of God. This is what gives him hope and sustains him through his suffering, even while God is silent (Job 19:23-27). But his torment ends only when God finally speaks to him, and he once again becomes aware of God’s presence and favour (Job 38-42).

We Christians have an advantage over Job, in that we can see how God has chosen to interact with our sufferings in the life of Jesus. On the Cross we see God suffering in and with the world, as Jesus dies – not alone, but in the company of two criminals (Luke 23:39-43). Yet in this story we also see two possible responses. We can complain to Him, demanding that He immediately abolish our pain and distress. Or we can be humbled by His willingness to share our pain and distress, and to bear the burden with us. To recognise that He is with us in all our sufferings, whether we are aware of it or not, is to see our situation from a completely different point of view. We are never alone.

One night a man had a dream. He dreamed he was walking along a beach with the Lord. Across the sky flashed scenes from his life. When he looked back he could see two sets of footprints in the sand, one set belonging to him and the other to the Lord.
However, there were several points along the path of his life where there was only one set of footprints. He noticed that these coincided with the lowest and saddest times in his life.
This really upset him, and he questioned the Lord about it. “Lord, You said when I decided to follow You that You would walk with me all the way. But I see that at the worst times of my life, there is only one set of footprints. How could You desert me just when I needed You most?”
The Lord replied, “My son, I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”

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