Why engage with God when we see pain, experience suffering or evil in this world?
27 Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. 30 They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. 31 After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
32 As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. 33 They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). 34 There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. 35 When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. 36 And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. 37 Above his head they placed the written charge against him: this is jesus, the king of the jews.
38 Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” 41 In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. 42 “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.
45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
47 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”
48 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. 49 The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”
50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
In this series of Grow Daily the day five writer (today) has been asked to pick a bible passage and to give a practical answer to the big question of the week. The practical problem for me this week is I do not know each of the reader’s personal circumstances with evil and suffering. These words ‘evil’ and ‘suffering’ will mean different things depending on your life experiences. Let me share with you some of what I have learnt so far in mine and I hope and pray some may resonate with your questions of God.
My close friend, who was facing terminal cancer, asked me once ‘What does God expect of me right now?’ I thought about her question for a while. My response mattered to her: she did not have long to live and we were having very direct conversations by this stage. My thoughts lead me to the fact that the position she was in was exactly what God ‘expected’ of her right now. Her questions, her doubts, her fears in the midst of her suffering was a clear indication that despite all she was facing, she was actively engaging with God. She had an open and honest relationship with God.
I encourage you in your struggles with the suffering and evil of this world to proactively engage with God. One way of doing this may be in reading the Psalms or other books of lamentations. We hear people crying out direct to God ‘How long will the wicked O Lord, how long will the wicked be jubilant?’ (Psalm 94 v3), ‘O Lord do not forsake me, be not far from me’. (Psalm 38 v21) And in turn, cry to God yourself. Sometimes the pain, hurt and suffering is so intense that we lose the ability to verbally engage. Then take time to listen to a song of anguish or of soothing. Sometimes a song sung can ring true to the cries of your own heart.
The second practical point is why engage with God? When God has the power to command at his fingertips, yet he does not change my situation – why should I engage with him? Now this reminds me of a second conversation. This time the conversation was with another dear friend who does not yet acknowledge Jesus in his life. He said to me in the midst of his dark struggles as he watched his young son die of cancer, ‘I don’t want to talk to anyone else but you and your husband, no one else will ever understand my struggles other than you, as only you know what I am going through. Only you have the life experience to be able to help me.’ He did not want to engage with people who had the ‘head’ knowledge of the pain he was going through, he wanted to engage with people who had also been through that ‘same’ pain.
This is why I have chosen the bible passage today – the crucifixion. This is not a picture of a God who is made of gold and who lives in a palace. Not a God who is untouchable or fails to understand our human pain. The God we engage with took on human flesh he suffered such mockery ‘They spit on him and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again’ (v30). Such cruelty, such all-encompassing evil – at the hands of the people he loved and served.
I don’t know what you are suffering today or what you will face tomorrow but I do know that we serve a God who is not immune and distant to our pain. We engage with God because at the cross he has first reached in and engaged with us.
Head: When you face struggles and see cruelty in this world, are you tempted to disengage with God?
Heart: Do you really know that God knows your pain and your suffering – have you taken the time to tell him about it?
Hands: If there are struggles or evil that you face where human help or intervention is needed please take courage to tell a trusted friend or professional in order to get practical help.
Prayer: Dear Lord thank you for loving me so much that you endured the soldier’s mockery, that you took the soldiers blows. When I face the hardships and cruelty of this world, please help me to remember that you also have suffered. Help me not to turn from you but to turn to you in full engagement through the good times and the bad. Thank you for loving me even when I am unlovable I have never strayed too far, and you have always welcomed me in. AMEN.
A song to listen to: When I survey
Emma-Jane McNicol- Creek Road Presbyterian Church- Carina