Sovereignty in Suffering

And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

-Ephesians 1:22

 

Many theologians and authors have recognized how the Lord uses trials and life difficulties to speak to his children and draw them nearer to himself. In particular, C.S. Lewis wrote two books on the topics of suffering and grief. From “The Problem of Pain,” a well-known quote articulates: “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” In this book, Lewis argues that human pain, suffering, and death are all forces that drive one to believe and depend on God, rather than being sufficient arguments against his existence as a gracious and powerful being.

Twenty years later, Lewis experienced the death of his beloved wife Joy and wrote the book “A Grief Observed,” a reflection of his honest thoughts and feelings as he processes her loss. Reading the book feels like reading someone’s diary and his raw vulnerability can sound like inappropriate thoughts for a Christian to be thinking. Reflecting on his own grief in the face of her death, Lewis writes: “When you are happy, so happy you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be — or so it feels— welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.”

These two quotes from the same author seem to clash. One clearly shows confidence in the Lord’s purposeful and deliberate hand in suffering and the other sounds despairing, dejected, bitter. Thinking back on my own life, I can resonate with both. During the hardest and loneliest times in my life, I feel abandoned by God, like he has turned his face from me and refuses to hear my prayers. However, seeing how he has provided and gently lead me out of these circumstances, I can confidently trace his provision and tenderness towards me when I most needed it.

The Lord has graciously given us words to communicate our anger, bitterness, and grief in the Bible, and those places don’t shy away from expressing those negative emotions. Psalm 42 laments: “My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, ‘Where is your God?’… I say to God, my rock: ‘Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?’ As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me while they say to me all the day long, ‘Where is your God?’” The Psalmist’s words sound a lot like Lewis’s reflections on his own grief and his feelings of rejection.

Though suffering of this magnitude is rarer, even the daily emotions of fear, sadness, guilt can feel devastating if you feel like God has turned his face from you and isn’t listening to your prayers. The 17th century Puritan author John Flavel was acquainted with grief and, given wisdom through his own trials, wrote: “The Providence of God is like Hebrew words - it can be read only backwards.”

When our lives prove to us that we aren’t in control, we can be confident that the most uncomfortable, difficult, and painful areas of our lives are the very ones where the Lord is calling us to greater dependence, the means by which he wishes to draw his children to himself. Furthermore, Christ himself can empathize with our deepest feelings of burden. Isaiah 53 identifies Jesus as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” However, unlike us, Christ’s response to rejection and sorrow was perfect, and he himself even identifies his heart towards sinners as “gentle and lowly,” (Matthew 11:29). Christ invites his sinful people to come to him and bring their feelings of fragility, shame, loneliness, and fear. He invites you to remember his individual faithfulness in the past and delights to gently lead you. Even in the midst of his overwhelming emotion, he author of Psalm 42 concludes his prayer: “My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you…Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”

 

 

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