Praying through Pain and SufferingFeb 02, 2022
"What about when God isn't good?"
That's what I googled.
I'd just read the daily update for a 14-year-old boy who's been in ICU since Thanksgiving. His dad reminded us that his son isn't the only child there. That hospital in Texas is full of children who are suspended between life and death. Next to them they have their distraught parents who are suffering exhaustion from keeping vigil with their sick children, juggling their healthy ones all the while clinging desperately to hope.
To be quite honest, I've been wrestling with why God doesn't just heal this child. Hundreds of people are asking Him to! It's sometimes so painful to read the updates that I skip a day or two. But his parents never get a day off, (nor does he).
They hang in there because this is their son!
I don't know why God doesn't just speak to this boy's Dad and simply say, "“What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.” (Mark 9:23 NLT) and then just turn and speak to those seizures and tell them to be gone! Oh how exciting it would be if Isaiah were to get up and walk out of that hospital followed by a team of medical professionals weeping with joy over the end of suffering in this one child and his family!
But what about the boy in the bed next to him?
Why doesn't Jesus just show up today, whisper the words and clear out the ICU in that Texas children's hospital?
Well come to think of it, why won't He go into all the hospitals in all the world and destroy pain and suffering? If I knew the names of every child suffering and I were invested in their story, I would want God to fix this for them too!
And, why just the children? Why not all the people who are stuck in ICU suspended between life and death and their loved ones who are desperate for healing?
I know God is able, why doesn't He do something?
My insecurity (pride turned inward) questions my own prayer-abilities.
"Is there something wrong with how we're praying?"
My arrogance (pride turned outward) demands God to give me an account.
"Is there something wrong with You?"
Oh my prayin' friends, do you see how our natural sympathy linked with our faith in a "good good Father" and exercised in mustard seed, mountain moving prayer might set us on a precarious path?
We've got to be careful not to let the circumstances and prayer requests and burdens that we are trusted to bear, become gateways to lure us away from the reality of God's goodness and the way that He demonstrates it in the world today.
When we pray through pain and suffering we would do well to understand God's perspective so that we can appeal to Him in a way that aligns with His character. We want to connect with God intimately, not foolishly play tug-of-war as if we could wrestle the answer we deem best from Him.
In other words, we need to know God well enough to know what we can expect of Him and ask accordingly.
Don't ever shrink back from asking God the hard questions. But when you ask, press in with Him long enough to get the blessing of hearing His answer. That's what I'm doing right now.
The question? "What about when God isn't good?"
This question came right out of the messy, miserable mire of one ICU room in one Texas hospital I found myself in because I am friends with the aunt and uncle of this one child.
C.S. Lewis tackled this subject and did a very good job of it in his book, The Problem of Pain.
His basic premise is this, if God were to remove all pain and suffering, He would be forced to pull it up by its root, and the root of all pain and suffering is...
As independent, free-to-choose, intelligent, image-bearing children of God we have been blessed with an inalienable right to live independent of the God who created us, the One who loves us. And with that independence comes inevitable results. The most unpleasant of which is...
...pain and suffering.
God isn't going to undo what His love compelled Him to do when He created us in the beginning. He isn't going to abuse His power by diminishing our independence even if it means alleviating our pain and suffering in the here and now. That doesn't mean that God doesn't care! Nor does it minimize His goodness.
God is good. All the time.
Remember when the preachers were telling us this? They had us repeat it with them outloud..."All the time, God is good."
Because God is good, and because God cares, He isn't going to sit on His mercy seat and turn a deaf ear to our prayers or a blind eye to our suffering.
Throughout Scripture you can find evidence of God grieving over the results and consequence of our independence. It begins as early as Genesis 4 when God confronts Cain in the field to try to intervene and save him along with Abel, and Adam and Eve, from the pain of what God knows is the fruit that is produced from indignant jealousy. Cain chose to ignore God's warning, do things his way, and WHAM! From the root of free will came the fruit of pain and suffering.
The first funeral in the Bible was perhaps the worst kind of pain and suffering there is--parents burying their child.
Then jump just a few chapters over and look at the flood; when the consequences of our independence grieved God to the point of creating a "reset" on the human race.
This God who intervenes in the affairs of mankind continues to do so throughout the Old Testament...but not randomly. Every time God inserts Himself in the affairs of man, He geniously (albiet subtly) reveals His answer to the pain and suffering produced from the free will He allows.
His genius solution was the plan to reconnect our independent souls to His Love forever through the offer of salvation. All in all God delivered 300 prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament, EVERY ONE of which were fulfilled in the Gospels!
God wanted us to know that He already had the ultimate answer to pain and suffering that resulted from free will, before the serpent ever slithered up to Eve in the garden in Genesis chapter 3!
John chapter 1 put it best,
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it."...
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."
PRAISE GOD we live and intercede on this side of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ! God made the way for us to reconnect with Him while exercising our own free will as we choose whether or not to yield ourselves and humbly receive His gracious gift of salvation that cost Him His Son.
So, how then ought we pray through pain and suffering?
When we long for relief from the pain of this world and we intercede for others because we care about their suffering, let's pray deeper than "Lord, make it stop!"
Consider praying like this:
Lord, show me more of You. Show this child's parents more of You. Use this pain to draw them into Your very presence where they experience the reality that You, and You alone are enough.
And like this:
Oh God, have mercy on this family! Of course I'm asking that You miraculously heal this child and end this ordeal! In the meantime allow them to drink deeply from Your Love while they are depending on You for their strength and their hope and their encouragement and endurance.
You're just getting started, now expand the circle...
And let the hope that they find in You overflow on the other parents who are suffering in ICU. Let their suffering be used to lead moms and dads to salvation in Jesus. Thank You that through them, Jesus, you are there in ICU weeping and having compassion and encouraging and loving.
Thank You for trusting this family with this trial. Thank You for the way You are weaving this pain in the very fabric of their other children's spirits. Thank You that their children will have an understanding of Your Love that goes deeper than the mere expectation that their lives ought to be without pain. Thank You that they are getting to know a God who is in not only with them in the hard stuff--but One who is using that pain to shape them into the image of Jesus, giving them the mind of Christ and setting their eyes on the world that is more real, and more permanent and more precious than this broken one. You are so much more than the One who makes the pain go away.
Thank You for the beautiful expression of humility in this child who smiles in the midst of it all; and that in that smile his mom and dad, and siblings, and extended family, and all of us--who are interceding on his behalf, are reminded that even in the storm, if "it is well in his soul," it can be well in ours too. Let us have humility and peace like that no matter what pain and suffering come our way.
Don't stop praying until you ask God to give them what they really need...
Give them all courage, LORD. And show us how we can partner with You in the best miracle of all by sharing their burden with them in prayer, and expressing Your love for them through tangible expressions of Your tenderness and compassion with acts of kindness.
"...when pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all."
So, do you want to know what this Dad did before he closed out today's update? He reminded those of us praying for his son that the medical professionals are working extra hard under extreme circumstances to keep hope alive for the parents and children who are in that place, and he urged us to join him in thanking God for them.
Thank You LORD for beautiful sufferers' like these who both challenge and encourage me. Be glorified in THIS. Amen.
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