Where is God when I am suffering?

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

One of the biggest reasons that people stop believing in God or calling themselves Christians is experiencing a tragedy and feeling like God was silent and did not answer prayers. The death of a child, the dissolution of a marriage, being the victim of a terrible crime – these and many other events can cause even the most fervent believer to ask “why, God?” So, what are we to believe when we find ourselves in that place, or what do we say when listening to someone who is going through this kind of crisis?

When I am faced with the inexplicable silence of God in the face of suffering, the best place to turn for understanding is to the cross. Imagine being a disciple at the cross, watching Jesus suffer and die. God never seemed more absent or unloving than he did at that moment, as He allowed His innocent son to suffer and die for crimes that he did not commit. After all, what kind of loving Father would allow His son to be tortured and humiliated like that, without coming to his defense? I am sure that the disciples were experiencing a severe crisis of faith as they watched the man who seemed so close to God dying a slow, painful, and unjust death.

But now, with the benefit of hindsight, we know that the truth was the exact opposite of what it seemed. The reality is that God was never more present and loving than He was at that moment. After all, Jesus was no ordinary man, but was the eternal Son of God hanging on that cross. And his death was no accident; it was the very means by which God was saving the world from sin and making a way for rebellious humans to be restored to a right relationship with Him.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

When I look at the cross, I must come to terms with my limited understanding of reality. When I realize the gulf between what seemed to be happening on that day and what God was really accomplishing through Jesus’ death, I have to agree with God’s words in Isaiah 55:8-9: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways… As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

The cross does not answer the question “why, God?” with regards to my specific situation, or the crisis that another person is experiencing. But it does assure me that the reason for my suffering is NOT that God does not love me, or is not capable of intervening. God has proven His love for me through Jesus’ death for me while I was a sinner (Romans 5:6-8). And just because God may appear absent or unloving does not mean that He is either of those things. The cross shows us that it may be precisely those times when God seems most distant or uncaring that He is most at work for our good.

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