I grew up in a broken home, and for years, suffering was much more real to me than God and his love. Depression still visits me on occasion, like an unwelcome friend. When I suffer, it feels like several things are happening at once: As I try to make sense of the circumstances that trigger my pain, my hope is quickly clouded by confusion and despair. It feels like my very life is sucked out of me, which is what we mean when we say people are paralyzed by anger, anxiety, or depression. Ultimately, I am tempted to question God.
Perhaps you’ve been there, too.
Weighed down with heartache, unable to see hope or even move, we wonder where God is in our mess. With our raw emotions in hand, we then use the uncertainty of our circumstances to start building our case against God. At first, this might seem like a good-faith effort to understand, but it usually ends up cutting off our most important lifeline to hope.
If this story is in any way like your own, here are a few tips to help you fight for hope:
- Recognize that our own bias tends toward self-destruction. When we’re suffering, it’s not like we’re carefully studying God in the classroom or library. We’re motivated by our hurt and guided by our wounds. Our vision of what is true and good and beautiful is murky. In a sense, we’re taking all the things that are uncertain and hurting us and working our way up to God to define him by them. We’re defining the light that alone could help us by the darkness that surrounds us.
- Start with what we know to be true. Does it make sense to start with what we don’t know to define the God we do know? Instead, consider from the outset what we do know about our God—his character, his heart for sinners, his saving works for his people over time, his care for us in times past. We can find most of these things in his word, which is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps. 119:105). Through his word, the Lord will guide our steps amid our darkness. Let’s start with the Lord we know and work our way back down to what we don’t. It’s more important to know who he is than what he is doing.
- Stop having one-way conversations. When we suffer, we tend to talk to ourselves more than anyone else. It’s uncomfortable to open our hearts to others, so we seek safety under the care of our own hand. This is dangerous. Sufferers are rarely good at caring for themselves. The Lord hasn’t merely saved us from the guilt of our sin, but he also brought us into his family, the church, where we as brothers and sisters are meant to lock arms in the storm. We need the family of God to join us in our heartache, offer us hope, and, if needed, speak hard truths that we’re unwilling to speak to ourselves.
- Voice our pain in prayer. We often ask, “Where is God in my suffering?” Who are we directing that question toward? Usually, we throw that question around like it’s rhetorical and doesn’t have an answer. These questions aren’t meant to be answered by us, as if we can somehow speak on God’s behalf. He allows us to approach his throne in prayer for a reason—to take these weighty matters to the God of glory who alone can offer us hope. Don’t hold back. Our God delights to hear us in our heartache as he does in our gratitude.
- Remember we need Jesus more than we know. Biblical hope isn’t first and foremost found by increasing our knowledge, but in the person and work of Jesus Christ. It was Jesus who traded his crown of glory for a crown of thorns and willingly embraced a life of suffering for our sake (Phil. 2:5-10). It was Jesus who showed us the heart of God for this broken world at the tomb of Lazarus (John 11). It was Jesus who remained perfectly obedient in the face of incomprehensible suffering (Luke 22:39-46). It was Jesus who conquered death, reigns as our king, and offers us imperishable hope (1 Cor. 15).
Here is God’s answer to our suffering—not a principle but a person. Because Jesus is who he is and did what he did, we have the right to hope. He who bore wounds for our sake will bind our wounds for his sake. Our life is still accompanied by grief, but we can grieve as those with hope. And there will be a day when our hope is fulfilled, our ache is answered, and the savior who has already taken our sin upon himself will come for our tears as well (Rev. 21:1-4).