Suffering is an issue that confronts us almost daily. Multitudes, both unsaved and believers, are facing horrific injustices, trauma, terminal illnesses, etc., in this world, and it seems like there is little that can be done to stem the flood of agony and loss.
Our faith can sometimes falter when our heart is breaking for those who are having to endure great hardship. We see through a glass darkly. We can’t see many things in the future, much less eternity. The moment we live in can feel very hopeless and discouraging. That’s why holding on to Jesus through these times, instead of letting go of Him, as though we were blaming Him for the problems, reaps such great rewards. We don’t always have the benefit of seeing the answers to every prayer and the fulfillment of every promise. We have to believe for what we can’t see. We only see a small part of the picture in this time-bound existence on earth. We see the suffering here and now, and we can’t understand why God hasn’t stepped in. If only we could see the whole picture of eternity and the Lord’s perspective, I think we would realize that God often works on a much longer-term schedule than we wish He would.
When we can’t figure out what’s going on and nothing makes sense, the Word, prayer, praise, our personal relationship with the Lord, the keys of the kingdom, hearing from the Lord in prophecy, our spiritual supporters and helpers, and knowing what God has done for us and others in the past can help us to get through these times.
Faith doesn’t hide from the painful circumstances or the wrongs. Faith knows that even in the worst and most heartbreaking situation, Jesus is there. Faith is choosing to believe that no matter how much evil has been perpetrated in this world, we who love Him will one day, either in this life or the next, see the good that the Lord has promised to bring from these things.
I took my questions to the Lord and I told Him, “You’re the only one who has the answers to these situations that boggle our minds.” He responded that when He brings someone or some ones to our attention whose present situation looks as if He has failed them, He wants us to ask Him what we can do. If He has placed them close to us, either in physical proximity, or in our thoughts, or bringing them to our attention in some way, He hasn’t failed them or abandoned them. We are His representatives to do whatever we can to contribute to their care and well-being.
We can be the fulfillment of His promise in that moment, because we can fill the gap through prayer or whatever He shows us to do, big or small. We can be part of His answer.
So when you feel like the suffering of others is going to crush your faith and trust, perhaps what Jesus wants is for you to see what you can do about it. Then He can continue to bring the suffering ones closer to Him, as well as add to your blessings for obeying His guidance.
I wrote the preceding to someone who was struggling with seeing people she knew enduring ongoing and deeply painful hardship, loss, and suffering. She responded with the following:
“Thank you for your letter. Yes, I totally agree. I am part of God’s answer to the injustice that breaks my heart. Since I wrote to you, many things have been speaking to me about this situation. I turned to Philip Yancey’s books, which specifically address these issues and ask the hard questions, and then everything I would read in the Bible seemed to talk specifically about this issue of ‘Where is God when it hurts’ or ‘Prayer, does it really work?’
“I think the greatest lesson I have learned is to NOT avoid seeing the suffering but to feel the pain, to cry the tears, to let my heart get broken, over and over again, to not shy away from the anger I feel, but then, NOT to stay there, not to settle in the sadness or in the anger, but to move on and do something about the situation, pray and/or get involved.
“I think that right now, with everything that is happening in our broken world, many people tend to sink into the sadness or the anger, and just remain there. I did this for years. But I now understand that the Lord wants us to go through it, but then keep going and use it to motivate us to act. We cannot act effectively from a place of sadness or anger, but from a place of love, His love.
“I was in Palestine 16 years ago, and got very sensitized to the Palestinian situation, but then it hurt so much to read the same story of injustice, of suffering, of horror year after year, that I totally stopped reading about it. I didn’t want to know. I wanted to avoid the pain, and to avoid doubts. But I see so clearly now that it is not the right reaction. I believe the Lord wants us to look at suffering squarely, and feel it, and keep feeling for others, keep a soft, tender, broken heart, to continue to cry, and then do something about it.”
I’d like to share a testimony that this woman sent with her response above because it demonstrates such a beautiful example of discovering new depths of understanding. She not only got the message and growth that I’m sure the Lord was thrilled to see her developing, but she launched into action to apply what she had learned for the benefit of others. It’s a heart-wrenching testimony, yet it’s such a wonderful example of being the light that shines bright in the midst of the deepest darkness.
“This is a short testimony of my recent first visit to a men’s prison in Mexico City, which touches on this subject of allowing myself to have a broken heart so the Lord’s love can pour through me.
“Yesterday we held our first program in the toughest men’s penitentiary in Mexico City, the prison for inmates who have lost all their appeals, even their very plea to not be transferred to that penitentiary. There, they have nothing left to do but live out their sentence. The place also houses the toughest convicts who could not be controlled in other prisons. The average sentence is 30 years. 98% of the prison population is poor, really poor. Over 50% do not receive visitors, which means no money and an urgency to find ways to earn anything in order to survive (because they have to buy whatever they need themselves).
“Upon entering, I am faced with clusters of skinny men all dressed in old, dirty, dark blue colors, with emaciated faces and empty, sad and desperate eyes. A pungent smell hits us and pervades the air everywhere we go, a smell of garbage, putrefaction, and sewage. A smell of anguish and desperation.
“Inside the penitentiary, little workshops selling their crafts line a main alley, as well as food stalls and small shops, all operated by prisoners. Visitors buy there when they come. Many men are standing against the walls, on their own, a vacant look on their faces, letting the time go by, the sentence, the sadness and the depression.
“Others offer their help to carry our luggage, to do something, to feel useful, to get a sense of belonging and perhaps remuneration; many do so with broken spirits.
“Others are enjoying the bittersweet experience of their family visiting.
“The facilities are old and dirty; the paint is peeling and the equipment is run down. The entire universe of these men is painted in dirty shades of navy blue, gray and black.
“We get the auditorium ready for the puppet show; we display the books and crayons for the children. The presentation begins, and besides the 50 visiting children with their mothers and incarcerated fathers, a number of other prisoners who are lonely and there by themselves also attend. Little by little they all let their inner child out, and laugh, enjoy and forget for a moment their reality. At the end, we distribute the books, and many come, asking to get some for their nephew, their grandson, or a family member.
“We leave feeling nostalgic. What we did doesn’t seem much compared to the need, but it brought a bit of laughter, of joy, of love.
“It was worth it.”
It hurts to see the suffering that is very real in this moment. We feel frustrated because nothing we can do in our physical bodies will ever be enough to fix this world. It’s going to take strength that we don’t have and wisdom that we can’t even comprehend. It’s going to take love that goes far beyond our own and more time and care and life than we possess.
It’s going to take an all-wise and powerful and loving God to restore each one who has suffered and lost and gone through the terrible things that each one has endured. It’ll take time, into eternity, but that’s why we have to hold on to Him. That’s what He is doing, heart by heart.
In the meantime, you are part of His answer, the fulfillment of His promise in that moment, because you can fill the gap through prayer or whatever He shows you to do, even though it may seem so little.
Here is my response to her concerning her prison testimony:
“Dear one, I was very impressed and touched by your testimony. From our earthly perspective, it’s so hard to see how to deal with that kind of suffering and trauma and despair and hopelessness. The only thing that can help us to do that is what you did. You did what Jesus was showing you and what was the only thing you could do. In fact, it was the best thing you could do! It was the greatest thing you could do.
“After I read your testimony I had some conversation time with Jesus. It was the only thing that I could do, and the most important! I prayed specifically that something that you and those with you did or said would be the key to some of the hearts that were so hardened and cold and hopeless; that through His love and power He could open a crack for them to see that God does exist, God still loves, God still cares. That through your obedience and love and display of God’s Spirit, He would reach the hearts of those who attended and start a change in their lives that would result in their becoming new creatures in Him. Even if one person is rescued and delivered from their living hell into the hope of heaven, it would be worth it. I prayed for a wonderful ripple effect that could influence many.
“If I were speaking to someone who is suffering and likely not to be delivered in this life I might say something like this:
‘Hang on just a little longer; know that you have a God who loves you, a heavenly Father who cares about you, and if you can just open your heart to Him and accept that He loves you, this pain and living death will be turned into something beautiful in the end, and you will be released, you will be delivered, you will be alive and joyful in His presence. Receive His love and forgiveness and know that your great God is able to do anything, and that means forgive you, and forgive others who have wronged you. Because you have a heavenly Father who loves you, you are facing a beautiful future. This applies to you no matter what kind of life you have lived, no matter how much of a struggle it’s been, no matter what horrific things you have gone through.’
“The story of the thief on the cross with Jesus is a wonderful one to share with people who have lived lives of crime and violence, of despair and hopelessness, of ugliness and brutality. The spark was lit when the thief heard Jesus forgive. Hope was born in his heart and he had the faith to say, ‘Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.’1
“Thank you, dear one, for doing what you can do and for letting Jesus do the rest. Thank you for giving it all to Him and letting Him bear the burdens. It will be worth it all.”