The vision of a God who has himself suffered testifies to his mysterious but good character. God’s suffering is part of the answer to that deeper, emotional struggle with evil. God does not give us all the answers. He cannot. A god whose actions we can fully understand is no god at all. However, in his death, he demonstrates what the answer cannot be. We do not suffer because God is uncaring or distant or unconcerned. We might levy such a charge against a deity who is only beyond us, but in Jesus, we recognize that God has also suffered beside us. He ordains nothing that he does not also willingly endure.
Some years ago, I found myself reading accounts of soldiers who fought in the First World War. One feature of these soldiers’ accounts was their feelings about their superiors. Almost all the soldiers drew a distinction between the generals and other “higher-ups” and the enlisted officers who were giving them their orders. They disliked the generals, viewing them at best with suspicion and often with outright hatred. The enlisted officers, though, were treated with a great deal of respect. After all, those men were beside them in the trenches. When the generals ordered an assault, it was from the safety of a bunker miles behind the lines. When a non-commissioned officer gave the cry “up and over,” the soldiers knew he had eaten the same food and huddled in the same trenches. He would be facing the same machine guns and razor wire.
God has entered the trenches. He has eaten the same food and been struck by the same bullets.
God has entered the trenches. He has eaten the same food and been struck by the same bullets. We might not understand his commands—we might even disagree with them—but we know that he must care because he came as Jesus. The world might seem crazy, but it’s the kind of crazy that God willingly endured.
We can come to God as a fellow sufferer who understands. When we experience physical pain or betrayal, when we confront loss or even death, we don’t have to describe them to God as foreign experiences. We can tell him how much our experiences suck and hear him respond with that sympathetic “Sure does,” textured with layers of meaning born from familiarity.
All this talk of a suffering God is mysterious. Trying to hold the images of God on the throne and God on the cross in our heads at the same time defies our imaginations. Move too far in the direction of a suffering God and we lose a proper sense of his impassible perfection. Go too far in the other direction and we end up failing to do justice to the reality of the Incarnation.
God is enthroned above the heavens and he has stooped near to us in Jesus Christ. He rules the universe and he knows our grief.
While this tension befuddles us, it is part of what makes Christianity uniquely helpful in life’s hard places. Most religions make their deities one thing or the other, either near enough to sympathize with us but impotent to help or so far above us that we have no hope of being understood. Christianity insists that both are true at the same time. God is enthroned above the heavens and he has stooped near to us in Jesus Christ. He rules the universe and he knows our grief.
Here are some of the things I have said to God in this journey through Elizabeth’s cancer:
“Why are all these people so broken?”
“Why is life so broken?”
“Are you even there?”
“Sometimes I just wish there was some way I could hurt you.”
“I know this smiting thing isn’t the norm, but if this person tells me about their herbal healing voodoo one more time . . .”
“I don’t want to deal with this anymore. I am done.”
God understands. He has walked these same pathways in Jesus Christ, and while Jesus handled things better than I do, he also knows the grief from which my honest words are wrought.
These are not the prayers of a saint. I am not recommending you incorporate them into your daily quiet times. Some of them are probably sinful. However, I say them because I know God understands. He has walked these same pathways in Jesus Christ, and while Jesus handled things better than I do, he also knows the grief from which my honest words are wrought.
There is enormous comfort in this proclamation: Our God knows our sorrows. That truth tempers our vision of God in the heavens, reminding us that he both sits on the throne and bends down to wipe our tears. We can rest in the presence of such a Lord. Even more, that picture of God helps us begin to find hope amid our struggle. After all, God’s grief isn’t just a picture of compassion—it is also one of redemption.
Taken from Either Way, We’ll Be All Right: An Honest Explanation of God In Our Grief by Eric Tonjes. Copyright © 2021. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.