Where is God in My Heartache Part 3
Know where pain comes from and know that there is purpose in the pain. This is only part of the process of understanding what God has to do with our pain. So far we have talked only of theory. We have merely sketched the backdrop on which your story is now to be drawn. For it is your story that we will now discuss. What does God have to do with your pain, with your heartache? How does He play a part in the long nights, in the haunting memories and in the terrorizing fantasies of tomorrow? What role does God play in the life you are now living? If there is purpose, what then is the purpose? The goal? Why?
After reiterating that God is not the original author of pain, I would suggest that God has only one use for pain: your good. God only ever uses heartache to benefit those who are touched by it, and your life is no exception. Now “the good” or “the benefit” He wants to bring you through your current heartache is either one of two things: He is either working to bring about reconciliation or transformation. If you do not know Jesus as your Savior and Friend, God is attempting to use your pain to bring you into a renewed or reconciled relationship with Himself; and if you do know Jesus as Savior and Friend, He is attempting to use your pain to transform you to look more like Jesus Christ.
Plainly put, God uses pain to bring sinners to the cross and make saints look like Christ.
Know the Worth
If you roll your eyes at this and declare, “Not worth it! Not worth the heartache, not worth the loss, not worth the sleepless nights and the nightmare I now live!” I would say, I understand and I know agony. I know what bitterness tastes like. I have held my writhing daughter down for painful medical procedures; her cries, her desperate face burns in my memory. I will not forget. Awake on cots in hospital rooms, I have laid staring at the ceiling unable to comprehend the sudden darkness of my days. I have been forced to swallow words like “aggressively malignant,” “unknown,” “relapse,” and “weeks, not months.” And with heartache, I held my daughter as she passed from this world to the next.
I am not ignorant of the price at which reconciliation or transformation may come. And yet, I dare to whisper the words “worth it.”
As bitter as the soil of suffering is, the fruits of reconciliation and transformation that God can produce from it are worth it. You may not believe me now. You may feel nothing but bitterness, despair or even rage at this moment, but you must know that I don’t write these things flippantly. I don’t take your hurt lightly. I ask you only to consider, only to be open to the idea that there is a God Who sees your heartache, who loves you in your brokenness, and who eagerly desires to make your story “worth it.” Whether He intends to lead you down a path of reconciliation or one of transformation, He means to make your heartache truly worth it.
In the next section I will share how God uses suffering to bring good through reconciliation, and I’ll follow it by a section on how God uses suffering to bring good through transformation. Whatever the path God is leading you towards, the destination God intends is good — only ever good. Take your time as you read, I am praying that God will guide you and show you the love He has always had for you.
Pain Used to Reconcile
If you are a person who would categorize yourself as not “knowing God,” as a person who perhaps knows about God but has no relationship or comfort in your knowledge of God, I will tell you plainly God is seeking to use your heartache to draw you into His embrace. His goal is nothing less than reconciliation. He desires to bring peace and unity where there was none before. He wants to make you a beloved child.
In our earlier talk about the fall of humankind and the separation created between God and man by sin, I explained that the broken relationship between God and humanity is one we have all inherited. Not one of us has escaped the brokenness of sin. Not one of us can dare profess to be sinlessly perfect like God. We may lay claims to “pretty good,” “decent,” or “better than so and so,” but I am fairly certain none of us would define ourselves as perfect, without sin. The Bible would agree with this assessment saying in Romans 3:10-11: “There is none righteous, no not one. There is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God.” It is this sin that separates us from a unified relationship with God. How could holiness reach out and embrace unholiness? How could perfection be one with imperfection? Sin created a wall.
For reconciliation between God and humanity, there had to be a way of removing an individual’s sin and giving him or her holiness. Jesus Christ was the answer. God’s Son came to earth as the bridge of reconciliation. He entered our world, lived sinlessly among us, died on the cross, was buried and came back to life again three days later. Living as a man, Jesus could fulfill the demand for sinless perfection; being divine, Jesus could give His life as payment for the sin of humanity. He could create a holiness to give to us and could pay for the sin created by us. The cross is the climax of reconciliation between humanity and God.
Now anyone, in spite of his or her sinful imperfection, can seek reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ. Colossians 1:19-20 describes it this way: “For it pleased the Father [God] that in Him [Jesus] all the fullness [of divinity] should dwell, and by Him [Jesus] to reconcile all things to Himself…having made peace through the blood of His cross. And you who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and blameless and above reproach in His sight.” Unity is once more available. Peace with God is open to all. It is beautiful. It is unbelievable. And yet, here is the thing: it is invisible.
Drowning Out the Heartache
Life, noisy, busy life, drowns out this critical life-altering message of reconciliation. Music lessons, sporting events, making lunches and deadlines create a whir of motion that captures humanity’s attention. The cry of peace, of restored unity with God falls on deaf ears and distracted hearts. Here lies the necessity of pain. Pain is the distracted human’s only hope. Pain also cuts the noise and stops the dance. It shatters the delusion that all is well, that you are the master of your fate, that life marches at your command. Pain deflates the false sense of confidence. It sinks the ship and leaves the sailor very much aware of his or her own vulnerability, very much aware of his or her need of a Savior.
You might object – why such a cruel waking? Why such drastic means? All the suffering? Really? Is there not a gentler, more loving way to capture our attention? But I have to remind you that you are reading this now not because all is well, but because all is not well. Did the beauty of a sunset, the joy of new life, the rapture of a well-cooked steak cause you to begin to ponder your relationship with God? Did peace and happiness lead to the consideration that perhaps there is a Creator of all this beauty and perhaps you owe this Creator something? Maybe…sometimes beauty is an effective means of waking sleepers to their greatest need, but not often.
Once more I offer C.S. Lewis’s insightful words on the topic, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Often we need a much firmer hand than pleasure to wake us from our slumber. We need a much sharper voice than joy to point out the trouble we are in. Certainly God may have been calling you all your life through these subtler methods, but His voice calling through the storm of heartache is the one that brought you here. The bottom line is that whether or not we think the need for reconciliation with God justifies your current suffering, God does. You are His creation. You are precious in His sight. Knowing that you are created to live forever, knowing that you will spend your eternity either with Him or apart from Him, He viewed the interruption of your pleasant life as worth it. He viewed waking you, by whatever means, the more loving gesture.
A man in hypothermia does not know his danger. In late stages a calmness settles over him. Lulled as if to sleep, he consequently may resist any interference by an outsider to wake and to rescue him. He may wish only to be allowed his deathly, sweet quietness; and yet love for that man demands action. It demands a rude awakening. In stark opposition to the man’s current desire, love requires acting against the man’s wishes. In asking for a life without pain, without the interference and awakening hand of God, you are not asking for God to love you more but to love you less. Only a God who truly loves you would dare to risk offending you by waking you from your deathly, sweet quietness.
Reach for the Hand of God
Oh, that we would see the danger as He sees it! Eternity lies before us. Without reconciliation with God, there is no hope. Without the removal of sin, without the holiness of Jesus, there is no future. He has reached out His hand to humanity through Jesus Christ. He offers us pardon for our sin and He offers us peace. We need but wake and take His hand, and there are times when pain alone is the agent best suited to waking.
I don’t know what you face when you finish reading this and I don’t know what your story is. I don’t know the elements that make up your heartache, but I want you to know God’s purpose for your pain, for your suffering is not to harm you. His hand is reaching to you through the nightmare. His voice says, “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He allowed His own Son Jesus to suffer so that your suffering would have meaning. He wants to be reconciled and He wants to make you His child. He wants to forgive your sin and place on you the holiness of Christ. Furthermore, He wants the pain to bring reconciliation.
What does God have to do with your pain? Everything. He wants to draw you near, but the choice is entirely yours.
Know How Pain is Used to Transform
For those of you, who have in the past, cried out to Jesus to be your Savior and Lord, and have since known the peace of finding Him a Friend, you may well wonder at your current situation. Doubts, anger, confusion creep in when it feels as though the God you have entrusted your life to has turned His back on you.
There is pain, but there is also a sense of wondering betrayal. Is my God not as good as I thought He was, or am I not as good as I thought I was? Is this judgment? And is He angry at me or is He just careless of me? Has He simply overlooked me? These questions – and many more plague the hearts of the believers when darkness descends over their once glistening lives. What is God attempting to do with my pain? Once again, the answer will only ever be your good. He is on the move to benefit, to enhance, to give you more through this nightmare than you could ever have received without it.
How? By using your suffering to transform you more into the image of Jesus Christ. He is working to make your life, your very inner soul look more like Jesus. That said, I can almost hear you whisper beneath your breath, “I’m not sure I care that much… I’m not sure being ‘more like Jesus’ is really worth all this heartache.” I don’t think you’d say that out loud unless you’re really feeling the weight of your heartache at this moment.
I think you know enough about what you “should’ say and “should” feel to be so brutally honest. But I know. I understand. Because quite honestly, if I could go back in time and be handed my daughter Colette at birth and be asked, “Would you like her to be completely healthy and remain in the same place spiritually, or would you like her to have a malignant brain tumor that will take her life before her second birthday but help you grow to be more like Jesus?” I would most likely squirm a lot and say, “Healthy, please.” The truth is that even those of us who truly do love God often struggle to see any benefit in becoming more like Jesus.
God makes it clear in the Bible that this is His goal for every believer. In Romans 8:29, God lays out His intention of transforming every son and daughter He has to look like Jesus saying, “For those whom He [God] foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.”
God moves and works towards this end in all our lives, and yet for the most part, we can barely muster up any excitement at the prospect. We care so little. What gain? What purpose? Why such an emphasis on this and why can’t God just let us be happy with our own version of happiness? Can’t He just be content with the person we are now? Why does He interrupt our lives with pain to pursue a goal that we have so little interest in? Why make us pay such a high price?
C. S. Lewis addresses similar questions in his book The Problem of Pain by saying “Let me implore the reader to try to believe, if only for the moment, that God, Who made these deserving people, may really be right when He thinks that their modest prosperity and the happiness of their children are not enough to make them blessed: that all this must fall from them in the end, and that if they have not learned to know Him [and I would add to be like Him] they will be wretched.”
Know God’s Intentions
God interrupts our contented, satisfied lives not out of anger or indifference but out of a burning, passionate love. Furthermore, He is not satisfied with our pittance of happiness. He has made us for eternity and He wants to fit us for that eternity. Giving us more, He intends to bless us whether we desire it or not. He knows that our joy and our peace lie in our becoming more like His Son. He knows that as we are transformed – as we grow in humility, gentleness, faith, compassion, mercy – we will find treasures unanticipated and glorious both in this life and in the next.
Your Heavenly Father has no desire to settle on you a meager allowance of happiness. He wants to give you more; and unlike us, He clearly sees transformation as the only path towards “more”; thus His adamant pursuit of our transformation. But the hurried, distracted life of the average Christian makes transformation difficult. As I said earlier, we are content staying as we are. We see no need for transformation. We feel no urgency for becoming like Christ. This dilemma is centuries old. St. Augustine, an early church father, spoke of this saying, “God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full – there’s nowhere for Him to put it.”
God is at Work in Our Heartache
Pain, you see, is the tool God uses to empty our hands. Suffering forces us to set aside the things that we thought would be enough. Heartache forces us to look upwards to a God Who was easy to ignore when all was well. And so we find our God at work in our heartaches, in our sufferings – intending our good, seeking our benefit, attempting to make us like His Son. We find Him working to produce the fruits of patience, of meekness, of love. We find His hands busy attempting to mold the sufferer into a reflection of Jesus the Sufferer so that He might one day make that same sufferer reflect Jesus in His victory as well. He pursues our good by making us like Jesus. He pursues our good through our heartache.
Though I do not know all the elements of your story, I know God is purposed on your good. His aim is to bless, to raise you, to lift you. Though for a season, you may feel the sting. For a time, there is darkness and confusion. Let the truth of God’s love, His faithful commitment to you and your story uphold you. He acts out of love and He remains by your side out of faithfulness. In addition, He works to transform you out of goodness. Dare to trust Him.