Something I was challenged with early in my Christian life was to “remember in the dark what God has taught you in the light.” In other words, what you learn about God and life when times are easy and good are the very same things we ought to remember when times are tough and bad. God does not change because of what we happen to be going through. God is the same “yesterday, today and tomorrow” (Heb. 13:8). What might change as we go through tough and difficult sufferings is our worldview, our view of reality, our view of ourselves and/or our view of our personal relationship with God.
We all know we live in a broken and sinful world and will suffer as a result of it. Romans 8:19-22 tells us that even the earth groans for redemption in which we have to suffer through earthquakes, floods, fires, etc. Romans 8:23-25 also tells us that we are broken people who groan for redemption in which we have to suffer through the evil and destructive choices of sinful mankind – our own and others!
I have often said and believe that Christianity is the only world-view that gives us a holistic understanding of the problem of suffering and of evil. No other world-view gives us such a complete picture of what we see happening around us even though we may not be able to answer every question of suffering and evil. C. S. Lewis once said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen; not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else,” and I fully agree! What God has taught me in the light gives me the foundation to survive in the dark!
So where is God in the midst of suffering and evil? Are there answers to the questions of the suffering and evil we see in this world? Indeed, there are answers to our questions. But we must first understand that there is a difference between answering “the intellectual problem of evil and suffering” and answering the “real life problem of evil and suffering.” It is one thing to provide an intellectual and philosophical explanation (e.g. “10 reasons that explain evil and suffering”), but it is quite another thing to walk with someone you love through the experience of suffering and evil. There is perhaps no more poignant example of this than C. S. Lewis, one of the greatest Christian apologists of the last century who wrote a book in 1940 called “The Problem of Pain” in which he outlined an intellectual understanding of suffering. But some 20 years later he was compelled to write another book about suffering called “A Grief Observed” in which he described his emotional and heartbreaking journey through the suffering of his wife’s cancer and death just four years after their marriage. One satisfied the mind while the other satisfied the soul! Both are necessary. One lays the foundation for the other. But when in the midst of suffering and experiencing the evil this world has to offer, there is within all of us a deep longing for something that satisfies the soul.
There will come a time during suffering that we can speak to the mind with the intellectual answers to the problem of suffering and evil for they will be the very things we hopefully have learned in the light that will sustain us in the dark. But what we really desire in the midst of suffering is something that speaks to our soul.
And that something that speaks to our soul is God – specifically God in you! God desires to use you to minister his comfort and care to another in the midst of suffering! That is why God tells us in Romans 12:15 that we are to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep”. To weep with those who weep is to speak to the soul of someone in the midst of suffering by:
W: walking with them, to simply be there, to just sit with them, without giving answers.
E: empathic listening, seeking to identify with their pain, to hear their story, to validate their struggle, and to understand.
E: encouraging comfort, seeking to comfort as God has comforted you with His grace and mercy and love (2 Cor. 1:3-7).
P: patient perseverance, that we not push but that we endure. That we encourage them (as they are able and as they ask) to believe in the dark what they believed in the light!
And, perhaps more importantly, that something that speaks to the soul is the person of Jesus Christ in whom we are united together. Jesus understands our suffering not only because of his own suffering, but because we are one with him and he suffers what we suffer (John 13-17; Eph. 1:3-14). Just as in our union with Christ, our sin is imputed to Him and His righteousness is imputed to us. We share in the fellowship of his suffering what we suffer he suffers (Phil. 3:10; 2 Cor. 1:5-6). We find satisfaction for our souls when we bring our suffering to Jesus for in him we “receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:15-16). And therefore in him – even in the midst of suffering and pain - we “find rest for our souls” (Matt. 11:29).