It all happened so fast.  Report after report of catastrophe came to me in a series of events that defied belief.  I was in shock for days trying to accept the magnitude of my world crashing in around me.

I buried my wife and children on a beautiful spring day as creation held its breath in response to my grief.  Sprinkling flowers on the earth where they lay, I offered an angry prayer to heaven, asking God to keep them.  Asking Him to take me too.

My fortune was gone.  My family was gone.  Finally, even my health and physical body were gone.

I sat in sackcloth and ashes, broken and beyond comfort.  And like everyone who has ever suffered, I asked why.  What did this mean?  It didn’t make any sense and I needed it to.  In the night of great distress, these questions aren’t interesting exercises in logic and philosophy, they are all we have left and their weight and import magnifies beyond imagining.

My friends and I wrestled with those questions.  We framed them and tried to bend them to our will, making sense of this world around us.  The disconnect between what I know in my heart to be true and my undeniable experience of the world around me is like a splintering of the mind. It hurts. It doesn’t work.  The failure to master these things leads to despair and I was all the way there.

My counselors argued that I had sinned, though I knew I had not.  I must have done something to deserve it, God is not capricious in allowing bad things to happen.  They spoke eloquently and fashioned beautiful constructs of logic.  They were masterful.  They were passionate.  They were polished in philosophy and presentation.

They were wrong.

The answer came, fittingly enough, not from answers, but from questions.  Questions from God Himself and the terrible, intimate, inescapable weight of His presence.

Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?

Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb?

Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place?

On the face of it, those things might seem harsh, as if God were setting me down hard and humbling me.  But it was different than that.  It was an experience that was filled with glory and with love.  He spoke to me in a way that I could understand, and I needed His words more than I have ever needed anything.

And His questions had answers: I was nowhere.  You did.  I have not.

And those answers set me free in His presence.  They placed me in a world where I could rejoice and trust in His power.  I was not adrift.  I was not beyond His reach.  I was on a sea where God is my Captain and able to complete what He has considered.  The tempest of His storm wasn’t for my destruction, but for my shaping.

The pain of the moment is here, but then it is gone, giving way to the next moment of experience or sense.  The only thing that remains is our response to it.  Our dread of the coming moment, our fear and horror of the present tragedy, our poignant memory of the slice of time… that is what becomes part of our soul.

As individuals, only our internal framing of meaning is eternal.  Only our response to the world is forever.

That’s why forgiveness is so important.  And why love is critical.  It’s God’s way for us to remake and participate rightly in our experience of the world around us.  It’s why trust in heaven to come isn’t just a copout or a rhetorical shell game.

So don’t misunderstand what is really happening when you suffer.

It isn’t an unbearable sequence of events that God is using to punish you.  It isn’t the deception of a universe that appears to be kind, suddenly exposed as cruel.  It isn’t the test of standing firm in the face of hopelessness in the way that you might think.

It’s an opportunity to alter your soul.  It’s a chance to be remade again in the image and glory of God, responding in a way that will bless you (and everyone you meet), forever.

I wish I could take your heart into my heart.

I wish I could show you how wonderful it feels to let go and trust in the author of creation beyond the pain of the moment.  I wish I could bring you to the place I’ve found, where the voice of God speaking brings surety and comfort beyond any other.

The solution to the problem of pain isn’t a beautiful argument.    The best thought, the best argument, the best realization.

… is the presence of God Himself.

“You said, ‘Listen now and I will speak: I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you.  Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”  (The Account of Job, 42)

Devotional Thought for the Day

Suffering is one of the hardest of human experiences to understand. But there’s something that Job never knows about his suffering. Something that we are allowed to see.  There is an enemy.  We have the same enemy. If we only knew the inside story when we face suffering. Are you suffering in some way, questioning what you’ve done, how you might have brought this on?  If the answers are silent, remember, our experiences have eternal significance. Accept your troubles with courage trusting that there is One Who has all the facts even when we don’t.

Want to read all 20 Daily Devotions?

Back to Stories