I believe it was early in my chronic pain journey, after several long stretches of agony when I cried out to God and begged for relief. Not even for healing necessarily. But simply a break from my suffering.
And I heard … silence. No response. No immediate rescue from my emotional and physical pain. A divine shrug of the shoulders, if you will, from a God who was supposed to love me.
This thought began to creep into my mind: If my earthly father had the ability to heal my pain, he would do it in a second. And yet my heavenly Father, who has all the power in the universe, allows me to suffer.
Over the years, that reality messed with my head. It began to challenge my belief in a God that is truly good. Because if He could turn a deaf ear to my suffering — and the pain of so many others — time and time again, was He truly compassionate and merciful?
Well-meaning people told me over the years, “You just need to have faith that He’s going to heal you.” So, if I’m suffering it’s my fault because I don’t have enough faith? That’s a heavy load to bear. And I did have faith. I believed with all my heart that God could heal me. I couldn’t accept that I was the barrier to my own healing. But that left me back where I started: Wondering why a good God refused to heal my pain.
Sometimes I am the cause of my own pain. I’ve chosen at times to do things my way instead of God’s way and I’ve reaped the consequences. In some cases, suffering can be the result of a spiritual attack. That was certainly true of Job. But sometimes our pain is simply the result of living in a broken, fallen world. This isn’t how He intended life to be. Yet God allows tragedy or suffering in our lives for some reason or reasons that we just can’t always grasp.
Right now, a sweet little nine-year-old girl from my church, is lying in a hospital bed in Gainesville. Just yesterday, she was diagnosed with two very rare, aggressive forms of pediatric thyroid cancer. Her thyroid had to be removed. One of the tumors wrapped around a vocal cord, requiring it to be severed and reattached — possibly causing permanent damage to her voice. She and her parents — some of the most God-loving people that I know — now await test results to determine how far the cancer has spread.
From the moment our church knew she had to undergo surgery, people have been praying for her almost non-stop. Yet this sweet girl and her parents received devastating news — and face an uncertain future.
From the very beginning of time, Satan has been trying to get us to doubt God’s goodness. He convinced Eve that God was withholding His best from her. In essence, he asked her, “Is God really good?” Her trust was shaken and she used the free will God gave her to make a devastating choice. So what do we do when the enemy challenges our belief in God’s goodness? Here are three things that I cling to:
He uses our suffering for good.
I think of Joseph. Thrown into a pit by his brothers, sold into slavery, wrongly imprisoned and forgotten by those he had helped. Years of pain and suffering, with no obvious explanation or “good” coming from it. Yet, each trial was shaping and preparing Joseph’s heart and character for God’s ultimate plan: placing Joseph in a position where he saved millions of people from starvation and was reconciled to his family.
It was then that he was able to say: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)
As I type this, I’m struggling. I’m having a stretch of terrible, nearly uninterrupted pain. And, honestly, at times like these, I just want to be delivered. I know that God has a purpose in my pain — but I don’t really care right now. I know He’s using it to build my character and depth of compassion — but I just want relief. I see how He’s using my pain to help others — and, frankly, I’d rather be less helpful.
I take comfort in knowing that Jesus struggled like this. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He too asked for simple deliverance: “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me.” But then He followed it with: “Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Matthew 26:39)
It reminds me that it is an act of my will — powered by the Holy Spirit — to submit to God’s will, even when it means that I won’t see an immediate rescue from my pain.
My circumstances — good or bad — aren’t a reflection of God’s love for me.
If God really loved me, surely He’d heal me. For years, that thought came to me over and over again. Of course, I knew this was false. But yet I couldn’t shake this belief completely. A few months ago, I read something that finally reached my heart and transformed my belief. I can’t remember the exact quote, but it basically said this: “God sent His only Son, who He loved and allowed HIM to suffer and die a horrible death. If He did that, how can you think that He doesn’t love YOU because He allows you to suffer?”
Just recently, a friend told me something one of his wise college professors used to say: “If God can capture your heart, your mind will follow.” I may still not always understand why He allows me to suffer, but I now believe — to the depth of my soul — that it is not because He doesn’t love me.
Pain gives birth to beautiful things.
Just like the pain we experience during childbirth gives way to a beautiful child, God can bring beautiful things from pain. It is sometimes a long process. As brutal as it may seem, we have to pay the price to understand the reward.
For me, pain has given birth to a chronic illness ministry at my church, a new turn in my online and writing ministry, an ever-deepening sense of compassion for others in pain and most importantly, a sweeter relationship and dependence on God.
Throughout this pain journey, God hasn’t healed me, but He has never left me. Day by day, He has always given me what I needed to overcome my pain, my emotions, my doubts. Time after time, He has sweetly given me reminders of His love and assurance of His provision.
Do I always understand why God allows pain? No. But is the loving God that I’ve come to know more deeply in the middle of it really good?
I can say “Yes” without a doubt.