Today’s devotional is from Logos, a powerful resource for Bible study. It is adapted from the course Counseling Suffering People, taught by Dave Wenzel. It will be not only a great personal resource as you go through difficult times but a tool to help others as they deal with the tension of suffering and faith.
The frameworks for understanding suffering are, in a sense, an attempt to answer the questions. Part of the process can be learning to live with these questions in a faith response.
Question 1: What is God’s purpose in this suffering?
We may not know the answer to that, but I will tell you there have been times where I have seen where people were given the answer. I think that’s also true in Scripture. Occasionally, we are allowed to see what God’s purpose was in the situation. When I have a situation where God’s purpose is, in fact, clear, one of the things that I’ll try to do is to use that, as stones by the river that show what God was doing so that when we face a situation where we don’t understand, we can look back and say, “Well, God was at work there, and I have faith that he’ll continue to be at work in the future.”
Question 2: What is God teaching me in this?
After my wife’s death, I was doing parent-teacher conferences at the high school. I was walking around. I [ran into] an individual that I knew. [She] very appropriately asked me how I was doing and what was going on and offered words of support. Then she said to me, “Well, I think essentially God did this to you because he wanted you to be a better counselor.”
I really have to pull away from that. When God teaches us something, He didn’t necessarily do it to us, but He can still use the circumstances to teach. As a teacher myself, I am not necessarily responsible for the events in my students’ lives, but I can use those events to teach them things. It requires their participation, and so this faith backdrop question allows us to enter the process with the people [who] we are working with an openness to the possibility that, in the suffering situation, I can actually learn something.
Question 3: How can we make God’s glory known?
We are invited in Scripture to be partners with God in his unfolding kingdom plan and to make his glory known, and suffering situations offer us that opportunity.
Question 4: When will we respond to God’s love?
The question so many times is: Where is God in the middle of suffering? I really like Philip Yancey’s response to that: Where is the Church? Where are we? We shouldn’t point at the world and say, “Why is suffering occurring?” We should be responding to the suffering. That’s where God’s love is; that’s where God’s grace is, and we can actually participate in that.
- Commit to the sufferer – “I commit to you that I will pursue to find out what God is doing in the situation.” I will remind people that I am with them through this.
- Create an environment of protest – I will, at an appropriate moment with them, protest: this should not have occurred; this is wrong; something bad happened here. And I believe God protests it also.
- Bring hope to the situation – The person may not be able to hope at that moment for themselves. We are hopeful that we can learn something; we are hopeful that we can make his glory known; we are hopeful that we can respond and help.
- Give the gift of silence – During the moment of pain, people rarely want answers. Granted, they ask questions. They will say, “Why?” Why can be an expression of pain, not necessarily a real question. Romans 12:15, “Mourn with those that mourn” is good guidance at this point. At some point, silence is actually the best gift. If you are not sure what to say, don’t say anything. Sit with the person. Never attempt to answer a question that God does not answer.