Where Is God When We Suffer?

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Tune into the Beulah Girl Podcast. Co-hosts Carol Whitaker and Suzy Lolley explore finding identity in Christ. Episodes cover topics such as spiritual growth, relationships, emotional health, physical healing, ministry, and more. Subscribe to get each episode on Soundcloud or simply listen to the individual episode here.

It is easy when times are good to say we trust in the Lord, and He is a good God. But how about when times are bad? Can we still say those words then?

When chaos takes place in our lives, when circumstances aren’t going as we would want, proclaiming God’s goodness and faithfulness is much more difficult. Some of us have been through or are going through such tremendously hard situations.

Oftentimes, there are layers to our trials. We have multiple problems occurring on multiple fronts; it can be overwhelming. We may feel crushed down by the weight of them. Paul said on his journey in Asia: “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8). So deep was the agony, so great the torment and trials, Paul didn’t know if he would find his way through them. And yet, he persisted and put his full trust in Christ.

While Paul is a man in the New Testament who met with tribulation, Job is a man in the Old Testament who met with affliction. He lost his estate, wealth, and children in one day (Job 1:1-22).

Unbeknownst to him, prior to his devastating loss, a discussion happened in the heavens between God and Satan. God gave Satan permission to afflict Job’s possessions and family. Then, to add insult to injury, God granted Satan permission to afflict Job’s health. Job’s body broke out in painful boils. Job’s suffering was so great, he cursed the day he was born. His wife suggested he curse God as well, but Job replied, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10). Job was unwilling to abandon his faith even in the midst of heavy trials.

To make matters worse, Job’s “friends” came to sit with and comfort him; however, they made Job feel even more terrible by heaping blame on him for the tragedy that had fallen on him. Although each friend had a slightly different view, they all arrived at the same conclusion: Job’s suffering was due to sin. In order for him to get out of his situation, he needed to confess his sin.

Talk about a miserable time for Job! His wife abandoned him emotionally when he needed her most, his friends told Job he was to blame for the trouble that had happened (even though that wasn’t the case), and Job stood accused by everyone close to him in his life.

No one understood or supported him. He was not even sure of what God thought of him initially. We can learn a few ideas from Job’s journey of suffering.

On a side note, these points are those I’ve loosely based on the information from a Suffering and Sovereignty study from the First5.org app from Proverbs 31 Ministries. I’ve been reading the study these past few weeks, and even as I’ve chosen to talk about the concepts in a slightly different way, they are those I developed while going through the study.

1. Suffering falls on the righteous and the wicked.

While clear connections can sometimes be drawn between our actions and the events happening in our life, sometimes they can’t. Certainly, the Bible talks about God bestowing blessings on the righteous and evil on the wicked. Psalm 51:12 says, “Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield.” Proverbs 33:3 says, “The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the home of the righteous.”

However, the book of Job reveals a more complicated view of suffering. Sometimes the wicked flourish with no recompense and the righteous suffer through no fault of their own (First5.org).

In both scenarios, God is still sovereign and in control. We as Christians must accept both good and bad — knowing He allowed both in our lives. That doesn’t mean we let people abuse us or mistreat us, let ourselves be passive doormats, or resign ourselves to situations that are not God’s best for us.

However, we understand that suffering is part of the Christian experience. We also understand that eventually, a man’s evil will catch up with him. He will be judged for his wrong and suffer the consequences of his disobedience against God.

2. Friends are good, but only One will never abandon us.

Friends are good, but we can’t always rely on them to say the right things or know what to do when trouble comes into our life. As we see in Job’s story, Job’s friends meant well, but they had no knowledge of what was really going on. By Job’s response, we see that their words did not comfort him and did not ring true for him. Similarly, we will have people completely misunderstand us and offer us advice we shouldn’t take (First5.org).

The only way we can know what to do and find true comfort is to turn to the only One who will not abandon us. We may feel like God is far off and silent, but He is close to the broken-hearted (Psalm 34:18). God is the only One who will have an accurate perspective of each situation we face. We can easily be lead astray by friends with good intentions who give us human wisdom and logic — maybe even a few Bible verses thrown in that might be right in another scenarios. We need to seek and listen to God’s voice above all others.

It can be scary to be the one voice in a situation that is dissenting when everyone else is assenting. We may think something is wrong with us if we are the only one offering a different point-of-view. However, sometimes our Christian faith walk requires us to think and act differently than those around us. Sometimes differently than even our Christian friends and family members.

The voices around us may tell us we’re wrong, that we’re not in God’s will, that we have brought the suffering on ourselves. But what is God telling us? At times, God will pinpoint an area of our life that He’s working on. His methods for bringing this to our attention may be extremely painful. However, other times the suffering we go through is not necessarily brought on by our own choices, but rather allowed for reasons only God knows.

3. God doesn’t expect us to be stoic in our suffering.

As repeatedly emphasized in the First5 study, Job didn’t curse God, but he was not emotionless or stoic in his suffering. He attempted to process through what was happening by pouring out to his feelings to God and his friends.

Similarly, it’s OK in our pain to express how we feel, to be honest with God. Job basically wanted to die, and He told people that. He didn’t try to play the religious role and pretend like these events weren’t devastating to him. He poured out his pain to others and told his friends what he thought of their comments.

In our own pain, we need to tell God how we truly feel. We don’t need to gloss over our feelings or pretend they are not there. We can be truthful with God. He can handle our grief and raw emotions. Certainly, Job went a little too far towards the end of the book of Job by accusing God (rather than just raising honest questions). However, we can learn from Job to take our questions to God and wrestle through our grief — rather than pretend it doesn’t exist.

Conclusion: God’s Purposes Are Supreme Through Our Suffering

Jesus told his followers before leaving the earth that they would have trouble, but to “take heart” because he had “overcome the world” (John 16:33). As Jesus’ followers, we will share in His suffering.

While our suffering can happen as a result of our sin, at times we will suffer without knowing the reasons or causing the suffering in or own lives. In those periods, as hard as it may be, we need to cling to God, ask Him our hard questions, but say as Job did, that we will accept both the good and bad seasons God allows.

At the very end of Job, after God spoke to Job, Job responded by saying in Job 42:2-6:

I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.

Ultimately, as the NIV Study Notes state, Job decided that God and His purposes were supreme, and he simply surrendered to God’s plan for him, which included suffering. After this, God made his friends go to back to Job. Job prayed for them, and his fortunes were restored.

Also in the NIV Study Notes, it says: “God does not allow us to suffer for no reason, and even though the reason may be hidden in the mystery of his divine purpose — never for us to know in this life — we must trust in him as the God who only does what is right.”

In other words, when our circumstances are such that they feel out of control, we have a God we can rely on and trust because His purposes for us are always good (Romans 8:28), even if they don’t feel good. Like Job, we can wrestle with God in our pain and request that God take the difficulty away. Ultimately, though, if He doesn’t — and we know our suffering is not a result of our own folly — we can trust that God has a reason to allow it and will bring good in our life through it.

In addition, we see Job say something very interesting in response to God. He said that he had “heard” of God, but due to this experience he had “seen God” (Job 42:5). Similarly, in our pain, however great, we will have the opportunity to learn more of God as we share in His suffering.

Interestingly enough, when I wrote the lines above to conclude this article, I penned them before I had read the end of the First5 Job study I mentioned earlier. However, quite fittingly, when I watched their last teaching video, I saw that Wendy Blight read Job 42:2-6 and came up with a similar conclusion. I thought it was cool that we shared some of the same thoughts about the end of Job.

In conclusion, then, what we can say about God’s whereabouts when we suffer is that God has not abandoned us. As believers, we can be assured of this truth found in Scripture: God is with us, a constant friend (Matthew 28:20; John 15:12-15).

Related Bible Verses:

2 Corinthians 5:14: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is seen.”

Podcast Notes:

In podcast episode, please note that there are two corrections: the reference to 1 Corinthians 1:8 in intro is actually 2 Corinthians 1:8. The Psalm 51:1 reference in the first point is actually Psalm 51:12.

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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Why I Trust God When Things Look Hopeless

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In our house, mornings are frequently fraught with difficulty as we strive to get out the door, but Sunday morning takes the prize for the most difficult morning of the week.

I have two strong-willed girls, ages eight and three. My eight-year-old, Beth, can be particularly difficult, and let me tell you, she was in rare form this past Sunday.

First, we battled over what she was to wear to church that morning. Next, we bickered about what Bible she was going to bring, as she wanted to take a preschool Bible that wasn’t really a Bible. Finally, we fought about her lying to me as she tried to sneak said Bible into her bag. I started yelling, and she rolled her eyes at me. The disrespect became unbearable, so in an effort to save her life and avoid jail time for me, I took off with my youngest daughter in my car and told my husband to bring Beth to church with him.

Mornings like these make me feel as if I’m the most incompetent mother in the world. Had I taught Beth nothing about respecting her elders? Doesn’t she know that lying is a sin? Where did I go wrong? When my children act this way, I begin to wonder if they are going to grow up to be godless heathens.

My parenting woes that sad Sunday morning raise a general question we all ask at least one point in our lives: What should we do when things look dark and hopeless?

There is one word that answers that question: trust.

First, I trust in God’s plans.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

God makes plans for us, and because His love is so great, they are plans for our good.

He gave me these children. It is a part of His master plan; this was no mistake. I can’t understand why, but He must want them with me for a particular reason. So when my children misbehave, like Beth did this past Sunday morning, and I react badly, the reality of God’s plans gives me hope. They will survive my parenting fails — and there have been many — and be the better for them. He can work all things for the good of those that love Him (Romans 8:28).

It brings me comfort when I put my trust and faith in His plans for my life.

Second, I trust in God’s sovereignty.

The Bible is clear about God’s complete control over all things: “In their hearts, humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

Jack Wellman, writer for the website Patheos: Hosting the Conversation on Faith, offers a bit of insight into Proverbs 16:9 when he says, “What this verse is saying is that humans might think that their plans are of their own accord, but it is actually ‘the Lord [Who] establishes [their] steps.’ Even our bad choices are used for God’s purpose in His sovereignty.”

Trusting in God’s sovereignty brings me peace, especially when I know I’ve messed up with my children. Knowing that He is in control at all times and in all situations helps me live my life and not be paralyzed by fear.

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When everything around me seems to be in complete chaos and I feel as if I might be overcome with the hopelessness of a situation, I force myself to “be still, and know that [the Lord] is God” (Psalm 46:10).

Trusting in God’s sovereignty helps me release stressful situations into His hands. 

After arriving at church that contentious Sunday morning, I entered into worship and immediately began to pray for myself and my oldest daughter. I asked God to be glorified in our lives, and I thanked Him ahead of time for what I trusted He would ultimately accomplish in us. I thanked the Lord for His good and perfect plans for my life and Beth’s life. Then, I thanked God for who He is — all-powerful, ruler over the entire universe — and I placed my trust in His sovereignty, giving over my worries about my child and my poor parenting skills to the one who has supreme authority over all things.

I left that worship service having placed my complete trust for myself and for Beth’s — for my entire family’s — future in His hands.

Little did I know, God would answer my prayer for my daughter sooner rather than later. The very next hour, when she was in children’s worship, Beth prayed to receive Jesus as her Lord and Savior. (Read “Beth’s Rebirth Day” for more details surrounding her decision.)

Trusting in His plans and His sovereignty is what I do when things look discouraging. Trusting in Jesus puts everything in His capable hands and out of my imperfect ones. When there is nothing else you can possibly do to help or to fix a situation, put your trust in Him. Are unfortunate circumstances (At work? With family? In life?) a heavy weight on your shoulders? Let me encourage you to put your faith in Jesus! For as the words of the great hymn say, “Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus.”

Jamie Wills

Jamie Wills

Jamie is a high school English teacher, wife and mom. She is a marathon runner and writes regularly in her spare time on miscarriage, running, spirituality and everyday life on her blog -- posting things that God shows her that she doesn't want to forget, or "forget-me-nots." Jamie holds a master's degree in education and sponsors speech and debate at the high school level. Jamie is the mother of three children -- two beautiful daughters, Beth and Hannah; as well as Angel, a baby she lost in August of 2010. She currently resides in Georgia with her family.

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