Where Is God when I Hurt?
No doubt many people over the centuries and throughout the world have rejected belief in the one true God on the grounds that they have witnessed or experienced great pain and suffering. Perhaps the loss of a loved one, or some other tragedy in their life, made them resentful and bitter toward God and life. By blaming God, somehow the pain seemed more bearable. But the Bible speaks definitively on this matter. And only the Bible can give us an accurate explanation for the existence of pain and suffering on the Earth.
Many great men and women in Bible history have preceded us in their attempts to live faithfully for God in the face of great hardship. Being human beings just like us, they faced the daily struggle to overcome self, sin, and Satan. They, too, had to cope with the stress and strain of life. They, too, had to endure hurt. We can learn from their behavior (Romans 15:4). If we will consider their lives and their reaction to the difficulties of life, we can receive from their example the necessary strength to endure. When we observe how they were mistreated and persecuted, and how they coped with their hurt, we can draw from them the needed encouragement to endure and achieve the victory.
For example, in his efforts to live the Christian life, Stephen found himself standing before the highest legislative body of the Jewish nation—the 71 members of the Sanhedrin that included the High Priest as president. He was on trial for his life. Instead of offering a legal defense, he preached a sermon. He surveyed Israelite history, spotlighting their behavioral propensity for apostasy, and then he drove his sermon home with this grand conclusion:
You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it (Acts 7:51-53).
Here was this great man of God, on trial for his life, and yet no speech could ever be less calculated to gain one’s acquittal. Instead of defending himself to achieve his release, Stephen’s sermon placed his accusers on trial before the bar of God!
Their reaction? They were cut to the heart and gritted their teeth at him. They began yelling at the top of their lungs while they stopped up their ears. Then they ran at him, dragged him outside the city, and threw rocks at him until they beat the life from his body. Did Stephen experience great hurt? Yes, even unto death! Where was God? Right there with him! In fact, by the miraculous intervention of God, he was able to gaze upward into heaven itself and see the glory of God, and Jesus standing at His right hand. When you and I hurt, God and Christ are still there!
Then there was Elijah (1 Kings 19). Upon hearing that Jezebel had “put out a contract” on his life, he literally “ran for his life” into the desert and hid in a cave. God spoke to him directly and said, “Elijah, what are you doing here?” His response showed a heart filled with desperation and despair when he insisted that he had been very zealous for the Lord, despite the fact that the Israelites had forsaken the covenant, torn down God’s altars, and killed God’s prophets. He felt he was the only one left—and they were trying to kill him, too! Here was a man who felt the crushing pressure of persecution. Here was a man who was hurting.
Yet, God had provided him with appropriate victories in life. When he went to meet his king (1 Kings 18), he was accused of making trouble for God’s people. But the truth was, it was Ahab who troubled Israel by forsaking God’s commands. He then challenged the hundreds of false prophets to meet him in a contest on Mt. Carmel to determine once and for all who is God. When those false prophets tried all day long to evoke a response from their god to ignite the sacrifice, they failed miserably. Elijah then gathered all the people around him as he repaired the altar of the Lord. Placing wood upon the altar and carefully arranging the sacrificial meat upon the wood, he ordered it to be doused with water, thoroughly saturating the entire sacrificial site. Then he offered a simple prayer to the God of heaven, which elicited fire that roared down out of the atmosphere, consuming the sacrifice, the wood, the altar stones, the water, and even the dust! That caused God’s people to get their thinking straight, and Elijah ordered the execution of the false prophets. Was Elijah a man who had to endure hurt? Yes! But God was with him!
And what of Daniel? Deported from his homeland while still a youth, he was placed in an unfriendly foreign culture and forced to learn the language and literature of the Babylonians. When his political enemies became jealous over his success and favor with the king, they finagled the law to get Daniel in trouble with the legal system. His crime? Praying to the one true God regularly! His punishment? Death by being thrown to lions. Talk about hurt! Yet, God was with him and stopped the mouths of the lions (Hebrews 11:33). Though he spent the night in the lions’ den, he was retrieved the next morning safe and sound. His accusers were substituted in his place, and the Bible says the lions tore them in pieces before their bodies hit the ground (Daniel 6:24). Did Daniel have to face hurt in life? Yes! But God was with him!
Then there is Amos. He had no intention of being used by God as a prophet (Amos 7:14). He was spending his life tending sheep and sycamore trees that produced a fruit that had to be manually pierced to ripen. But when God commissioned him to travel from his home in southern Palestine to northern Palestine, and to present God’s words to those people, he went. But he was not well received. When he announced that Israel would be laid waste and the king himself would die by the sword, you can imagine the reaction. Amaziah the priest accused him of conspiracy to overthrow the government, and tried to intimidate him into leaving the country immediately. Amos responded by making clear that he was no prophet by profession, and would have been content to do the humble work he performed in his private life. But God had instructed him to prophesy, and that’s what he was going to do. Not only would Israel fall, but Amaziah’s own children would be killed and his own wife turned into a prostitute (Amos 7:17). Was Amos placed in a situation that brought hurt into his life? Criticism? Opposition? Yes! But God saw him through his hurt!
Micaiah, too, faced the pressures and hurts of life. When the king of Israel and the king of Judah met to discuss the possibility of a mutual military campaign, the king of Judah wanted some reassurance from God that their efforts would be successful. Ahab paraded his 400 false prophets before Jehoshaphat, and the “yes men” offered the desired reassurance. But Jehoshaphat was uneasy and wanted some more credible indication. Ahab admitted that Micaiah could be consulted—“but I hate him, because he does not prophesy good concerning me, but evil” (1 Kings 22:8).
Micaiah was immediately summoned. The two kings sat upon their thrones, listening to the false prophets. One false prophet, Zedekiah, even dramatized his reassurance by holding up an iron replica of some ox horns and declaring that the kings would gore the Syrians to death. Meanwhile, the officer who had been sent to bring Micaiah to them, urged him to go along with the other prophets and reassure the king. But Micaiah said he would say what the Lord told him to say, and when questioned by the king, he sarcastically suggested that they go right ahead. When pressed to get serious, Micaiah predicted that the army would be scattered and Ahab would be killed. He then described how a lying spirit was directing the advice of the false prophets—whereupon Zedekiah walked over, slapped Micaiah across the face, and taunted him with the words, “Which way did the spirit from the Lord go from me to speak to you?” Micaiah said he would find out on that day of military calamity when he would run and hide in an inner chamber.
Micaiah was sent to prison for his courageous stand, and was placed on bread and water. But when the battle ensued, Ahab disguised himself for the specific purpose of avoiding Micaiah’s prediction. The Syrian king even assembled a “swat” team of 32 assassins, and charged them to avoid all conflict and concentrate solely on getting Ahab. But God did not use them to accomplish His prediction. Instead, the Bible informs us that a nameless archer drew back his bow and let his arrow fly “at random,” that is, aiming at no one in particular—no doubt just excited in the heat of battle. Out of all those soldiers who were occupying the battlefield, that arrow found its way to Ahab. And out of all the places on Ahab’s armor, that arrow struck in the crevice between the joints of the armor and punctured his wicked heart. His blood pooled in the bottom of his chariot and he was dead by sundown. Micaiah had to face hurt—but God was with him, and he lived to see the demise of those who inflicted the hurt.
The Elijah of the New Testament faced the same thing. He had to stand up and confront the Pharisees and Sadducees face to face, label them “vipers,” insist upon repentance, and warn them of the wrath and unquenchable fire to come (Matthew 3:7-12). When he had the courage to inform the king that his marriage was unacceptable to God, the king’s illicit wife held it against John and wanted him eliminated. She got her way, and the executioner cut off John’s head, leaving only his headless corpse for his disciples to bury (Mark 6:14-29). Did John face hurt? Yes—even unto death! But was God with John? Jesus, Himself, said, “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11). God knows our hurt, and He is there.
Paul was a model of persecution. The list of his persecutions is lengthy (2 Corinthians 11:24-28). He received the customary 40 lashes (Deuteronomy 25:1-3) from the Jews on five separate occasions. Three times he received the customary Roman beating with rods (Acts 16:23). He was even stoned (Acts 14:19). Three times he went through the harrowing experience of being shipwrecked (e.g., Acts 27:41ff.), and even drifted on the ocean all night and all day. He experienced the fatigue of frequent travels, the perils of waters, robbers, angry countrymen, and Gentiles. He suffered in the city and in the desert, in the sea and among false brethren. He went through weariness, toil, sleeplessness, hunger, thirst, fasting, cold, and nakedness. He was a hounded, hunted, harassed, and hurt man! He experienced the insecurity and fright that comes from vicious opposition. But the Lord said to him, “Don’t be afraid, but speak, and don’t keep silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you” (Acts 18:9-10). When he faced the hurtful pain of a “thorn in the flesh” to keep him humble, the Lord reassured him—even in the midst of his suffering—“My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9). He was able to conclude: “I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Infirmity, distress, reproach, persecution? These things hurt! But through it all—we are assured of the help of our Lord!
But the supreme example of suffering and hurt is that of Jesus Christ Himself. Besides the lack of physical comforts (Matthew 8:20) and the frequent mistreatment He endured throughout His earthly ministry, finally He was seized by an angry mob carrying swords and clubs. He was positioned before a kangaroo court to face the accusations of false witnesses. He encountered the tirade of a raging High Priest who accused Him of blasphemy, and He had to hear the council’s condemnation to death. He had people spit in His face, beat Him, and strike Him with the palms of their hands as they mocked and taunted Him. He was bound and taken before the Roman authorities where He experienced the further humiliation of a jeering crowd who chose a notorious criminal over Him for release. He then suffered further indignities at the hands of Roman soldiers who stripped Him, pressed a crown of thorns down upon His head, spit on Him, and struck Him on the head with the reed they had made Him hold as a scepter. Finally, He endured the excruciating, horrifying death inflicted by a Roman cross, as passers-by blasphemed Him, shook their heads at Him, and taunted Him to save Himself. Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him. Where was God? Where is God when you or I hurt? Where is God when a Christian loses a child? He is right where He was when He lost His own Son.
Whatever suffering or hurt you or I may experience, pales in comparison to the hurt endured by our Lord. We need to remember: Sunday followed Friday. His suffering unto death provided an incredible result that you and I may share. “God commended His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Must we hurt?
For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: “Who committed no sin, Nor was guile found in His mouth”; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously (1 Peter 2:21-23).
In fact, Jesus was “made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death…that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone” and, in so doing, He is able to “bring many sons to glory…for in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted” (Hebrews 2:9-10,18). Jesus suffered great hurt and harm, but He endured for us. May we endure for Him! We can and must be like Him. “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).
In Revelation 19, we are treated to a spectacular portrait. Heaven opens and out comes a white horse whose rider has three names: “Faithful and True;” “The Word of God;” and “King of kings and Lord of lords.” In righteousness, He judges and makes war. His eyes are flames of fire. He wears on His head multiple crowns, and his clothing has been dipped in blood. Protruding out of His mouth is a sharp sword. He rides at the head of the mounted cavalry of heaven. The Christians who were first given this awesome picture had been undergoing intense, excruciating pain and suffering. But neither they nor we can visualize this marvelous scene without coming to at least one undeniable conclusion: God knows when we hurt and experience untold pain and suffering; but He is there, He is with us, He will not abandon us, and we must continue to trust Him.
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