Where Is God When It Hurts?

The hurt of my sister's death still haunts me. Where are you God, help me. God I am in such pain, I can't move without pain shooting through my body. Where are you God, help me. We live in a world where pain and suffering is the norm for many people. God where are you when it hurts?

This is not an uncommon question and probably many of us here have asked this question at one time or another. I'm sure many were asking this question last year after the attack's, which took place on September 11th. Where is God when it hurts?

Today we will explore this question. But first please pray with me. Lord God, one of the questions we find ourselves asking in troubling times is where are you when it hurts? As we review the biblical text and discern how you are with us, even in times of trouble, make us strong in faith and even more committed to your truth. And now gracious God make your words my words and your thoughts our thoughts as we discuss one of the more practical and important questions of our faith. Through Christ we pray. Amen

Terry was filled with terror. Just three days earlier, she had discovered an irregularity in her breast and she feared it was cancer. In her state of anxiety, she stopped by her church as if by instinct. Above the entrance to the church was an inscription that her eyes were drawn to which was written by St. Francis, an inscription she had never noticed before even though she had walked through those doors many times.

The inscription read, "The same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow and everyday. Either he will shield you from suffering, or he will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace then and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations."

"The prayer really helped," Terry mentioned a year later. "Up to that point everything was turbulent. Now I looked at those words and felt a tremendous release from my fear and anxiety." "Of course God wants to help me," she thought, "and to take me into his arms and release me from what I am feeling."

On that day Terry didn't get good news from her doctor. She was soon to undergo a double mastectomy and chemotherapy. Terry came through the surgery and chemotherapy very well and her faith in God was strengthened, not because she was rid of cancer, but because she new in a very profound way God was with her regardless of the outcome.

Human beings are resilient and can find ways to rise above suffering - even to the point of finding meaning in the midst of their struggles. Lets look at some ideas that might help us make sense out of suffering.

The first idea is what Jack Wintz calls ambush theology. Wintz says to discern meaning in suffering, we have to clear up some misconceptions regarding God's role in human pain. We fall into an ambush theology when we view God as someone who is out to get us! Overly focused on our sin and doubting our worth we wrongly picture God as hiding along the path of life ready to jump out at us and punish us for offenses we have committed, even those we might not even be aware of.

We are tempted to see sickness and disaster as God's punishment for our human failure.

Jesus corrected his disciples on this very point one day when they ran into a blind man and asked Jesus, "Rabbi, was it his sin or that of his parents that caused him to be born blind?" Jesus set them straight by saying, "It was no sin, either of this man or of his parents. Rather, it was to let God's works show forth in him." (John 9)

God is not about inflicting, blindness, cancer, or earthquakes upon people, but just the opposite, the removal of such misery. God's glory is revealed in healing these troubles. Next we need to realize and recognize we live in an imperfect world. How can a good God allow thousands of people be killed in a natural disaster?

How can God's goodness be reconciled with disease or the birth of deformed babies? Why does God let air or highway disasters happen through human ignorance, carelessness, or purposeful intent?

Human beings since the time of creation have had the ability to choose their course in life. God has given each of us the freedom to choose. As a result we make decisions, which upset the natural order, the environment in which we live. We make choices to sin, which can affect us and can affect others for many years.

Can God take away our freedom to choose and to create order out of chaos? Yes, I believe he can, but to do so means we are no longer human beings, the pinnacle of God's creation. We are nothing more than puppets. We can choose to sin and to go our own way. But when we do we can't blame God for the environment we create for ourselves.

God so respects our human freedom that he will not interfere with that sacred gift, that is the gift of freedom, even if it brings harm upon us. When human beings make destructive moral choices, we can't blame God for these choices or their consequences. We must take responsibility for our choices, and be held accountable for the same. God's will is that we are healed no matter what we are going through.

Next we have to distinguish carefully between the permissive and active will of God and their relationship to our suffering. I believe God does permit and allows us to suffer, but I reject the notion that God actively or directly wills us to suffer.

Many tragedies result from an unfinished, evolving world rather than from the will or action of God. God despises suffering and wants us to be healed. God's will is ultimately to overcome sin and chaos and move the world toward perfection, through the co-creative efforts of humanity.

Sometimes our healing happens through miraculous cures, such as we see in the scriptures, or perhaps have witnessed first hand. However, most often God's healing comes about through the work of scientists, doctors, nurses, psychologists, and others throughout our community. And I believe God provides healing in 5 ways: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and yes even death.

God does not directly torment or impose evil on us. God does not actively dole out divorce, criminal assault, AIDS or heartaches. Yet with God's help, good can come out of our trials and tribulations.

Pain can purify and humanize the heart. Even deep personal losses - if we remain open to God's loving presence in our lives - can be redemptive and lead us to deeper compassion and richer humanity. As a response to suffering we ought to engage in honest and sincere prayer. Trusting prayer is not sugarcoated or anguish-free.

We present ourselves to God as we are - warts and all. We tell God about our fear, our confusion, our anger, our depression, and our bitterness at having our plans threatened or our dreams shattered. We tell God how hard it is to let go of those things that worry and hurt us, and to trust that good can somehow rise out of the ashes of defeat.

We saw this first hand last year didn't we. What a vivid example of how good can rise out of the ashes of hate when we reflect back on the many instances of good which took place at the Pentagon, in the World Trade Center Towers, and in the air over Pennsylvania.

Don't tell me God wasn't visibly active as he worked to make good come out of something so evil. This week as we once again remember the horrific events of last year I encourage you to look beyond the dust and twisted steel, and look at how God has used those events to change the world. And God is still at work healing those who have been directly affected by the evil of the terrorist attacks.

What gave Todd Beamer the courage to defeat terrorism on September 11? What gives Lisa Beamer the courage to go forward day by day in her own life, with confidence, hope and even joy?

The answer is not found in "lukewarm faith," but in their deep heartfelt faith in the living God - in the good news that Jesus Christ is God's own son; that he has borne all of our sins, grief, and sorrows in his death for us on the cross; and that we can know the only reason for hope for today, for tomorrow, and forever, is through our faith in Christ's death and resurrection.

I believe it's when we experience suffering in its many different forms that we have the opportunity to grow in grace. It was said three centuries ago that, "You can advance farther in grace in one hour during this time of affliction than in many days during a time of consolation."

In our dark moments we may not have a complete answer to the question of suffering. But we can surrender ourselves into the hands of the one who does have the answers, and who will faithfully walk with us and lead us through the dark valley.

Please pick up your pew Bible, turn to page 392 (387). Lets together speak the important and comforting words of the 23rd Psalm "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.

He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." AMEN

When we allow God our shepherd to guide us, we can have peace and contentment. Know that God walks with us in our struggles and hurts when we hurt.

And when we are in the midst of our struggles, or when we are in pain and we are hurting we ought to turn to Christ our shepherd who knows the green pastures and quiet waters that will restore us and make us whole.

Because life is so uncertain, we ought to follow this shepherd, God almighty, who suffers with us, who grieves when we grieves, who hurts when we hurt. We ought to follow this shepherd who offers us eternal comfort and promises to bring us into his house forever.

Thanks be to God for being with us during the good times and the bad, and for offering us a bright and hopeful future.


Read other messages by Pastor Wade