It would be different if I believed that Christianity was a ticket to health, wealth, and worldly success.
It would be different if I believed what much of the prosperity gospel sells.
It would be different if I believed that it was my due as a faithful follower of Christ to prosper in every measurable way in the world and blame God for anything to the contrary.
It would be different, if I was younger than I am now.
When I was growing up, I experienced God’s presence primarily through blessing. And, as privileged as it sounds – and I do know that it sounds privileged – that has been the case for a long time. I am grateful it was like that, for me. For whatever reason, God knew I needed it, then.
But the scales fell off as adulthood came along. While I and those close to me experienced a great deal of peace and earthly prosperity, I watched as other believers suffered, lost, mourned. I began to understand what it meant, to have no earthly guarantees.
And now crisis has hit my family, with my mother’s health, and while I am so grateful God chose to bless me so richly in my childhood and teenage years with so many good things, I am grateful now, too, that He has grown me into someone who does not perceive the lack of blessing, or trial and suffering, as a lack of love.
The first: The night before my mother’s long journey through America’s labyrinthine healthcare system began – before it became clear to us there were any profound issues – I had a dream. I have only had a handful of dreams like these in my entire life: clear as day, with an unmistakable and clear message that I am certain came directly from God. The message in this dream was clear: my mother was not well, and needed help. I was so rattled that I decided I would tell her about the dream when we spoke and encourage her to visit the doctor as a just-in-case measure–only, when I called, she had passed out in the kitchen and was headed to the doctor. We found out much later that the infection would, indeed, have been life-threatening had her primary physician not pushed to have her admitted to the hospital for tests.
Looking back at that dream now, I don’t know that I understand it in a premonitory sense as I do a preparatory one. It was as though God grasped my shoulders, told me to take a deep breath, and prepare myself. As though He did not will that we would be plunged into this unwittingly.
The second: I am anxious person by nature and a worrier. It is difficult – it is very difficult – to keep my thoughts from spiraling into catastrophic places. I have been working on disciplining my mind, but some days it is hard. Just after my mother’s initial diagnosis, as I paced down a sidewalk in our neighborhood, a thought came to me – sharply-defined and not mine, and with the sense of a hand tilting my chin up meet an understanding gaze:
Look only at me.
And so I have. “For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us,” said Jehoshaphat to God. “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chronicles 20:12).
Keeping your eyes on the Suffering God means recognizing that there is no pain or hurt you’ve experienced that He does not know; no empathy missing in His affection; no lack of kinship in pain. Keeping your eyes on the Suffering God means that beyond the questions and confusion you can sense the steadiness of deep love. Keeping your eyes on the Suffering God means the comfort – and it is a comfort – that what grieves us grieves God, too.
Childhood says, I know You’re with me because You’ve blessed me with more than enough.
Adulthood says, I know You’re with me, and that is enough.
2 thoughts on “The Suffering God”
“Look only at me.” Yes! In our darkest hours knowing His deep, abiding love and presence is our safety. Everything you said is true and you know. Hold to those things you know.
Wow. I got goosebumps when you wrote of your dreams. I’ll tell you about them sometime.
Your experience and encounter with the Suffering God speaks to that Sacred Space that we talked about. It is so profound in that it brings us so close to God.