Life hurts. In hundreds of ways—through disappointments, sicknesses, losses, betrayals, or financial reverses—all of us feel the hurts of life.
Remember when your best friend turned on you and said something such as, "Just stay out of my life"? Or how about the time you studied hard and still didn't pass the exam? She would have been your first child, but you miscarried? You liked your job, worked faithfully, expected a promotion, but lost out to a coworker.
The pain seeps deep down inside. Some of us can let the tears flow and find relief. Others long ago learned, "Only sissies cry. Real men don't feel those things."
One spring day, I was reading in the tiny book of Lamentations. With image after image, the writer describes his suffering. But more than that. He insists that God is responsible for it. The Old Testament writers weren't afraid to call God the author of tragedy. It wasn't a wail of blame, but an acknowledgment of God as the ultimate cause of everything that goes on in the world.
They didn't say, "God allowed it to happen" or "God permitted it." They stated, "God did it." For example in Genesis 1:1-66 (NKJV):
1 "He has led me and made me walk in darkness and not in light" (v. 2).
2 "Surely He has turned His hand against me time and time again" (v. 3).
3 "He has aged my flesh and my skin and broken my bones" (v. 4).
4 "He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and woe" (v. 5)
5 "He has set me in dark places like the dead of long ago"(v. 6).
I read those verses at a time when I felt some of the pangs of the writer. Frankly, my problems didn't compare with his. He lived in the final days of Jerusalem before the Babylonians carried his people into exile. Throughout the four chapters, he groans about his own suffering and that of his people.
As I read, I felt the depression of his words. It was as if the writer had allowed me to overhear his deepest, inmost thoughts. He pointed to God as the cause of all his difficulties. That day I too felt as if God had afflicted me, sent me into darkness and filled me with bitterness.
I read most of chapter three again, this time aloud. I resonated with the writer's pain and anguish. I felt as if I too were living in the darkness, or as 3:7 puts it, "He has hedged me in so that I cannot get out."
As I continued to read chapter three, the tone began to change: "Remember my affliction and roaming…. This I recall to my mind. Therefore I have hope. Through the LORD'S mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not" (19, 21-22). Finally comes the big leap of faith—he goes for comfort to the very God who had afflicted him. "The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should hope and wait quietly" (3:25).
What a picture to contemplate. Assuming that it begins with our failure, we encounter the heavy hand of God. We cry out, "Help me. Don't turn your back." And then we go on to say that the God who brought the pain is the one who brings comfort.
Then we grasp the loving, comforting God, who is there all along. The Lamenter saw God as pushing him to despair before revealing joy and goodness.
God loves us enough to push us into a corner, to make us face our utter misery. Only after we've confronted our misery can we appreciate the comfort. Only after we've experienced the deepest darkness can we value the light.
The LORD causes a lot of suffering, but he also has pity because of his great love. The LORD doesn't enjoy sending grief or pain. --Lamentations 3:32-33, CEV
We're still alive. We shouldn't complain when we are being punished for our sins. Instead, we should think about the way we are living, and turn back to the LORD. --Lamentations 3:39-40, CEV
God who brings comfort,
help me in my affliction,
make me aware of your goodness and love,
so that I can turn from the wrong paths,
and know your comfort once again. Amen.
For more from Cec, please visit www.cecilmurphey.com.
Cecil Murphey has written more than one hundred books on a variety of topics with an emphasis on Spiritual Growth, Christian Living, Caregiving, and Heaven. He enjoys preaching in churches and speaking and teaching at conferences around the world. To book Cec for your next event, please contact Twila Belk at 563-332-1622.