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The heart of the matter on suffering, joy and God.

Let’s get to the heart of the matter …

John Stott, the much loved brilliant Anglican theologian had this succinct take:

The fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge

to the Christian faith, and has been in every generation.  

Its distribution and degree appear to be entirely random and therefore unfair.  Sensitive spirits ask if it can possibly be reconciled with God’s justice and love.1

When I was 10 years old, my parents bought a 115-year old Colonial Revival home in Alameda, California.  At the second floor landing, there was a bank of tall, beautiful leaded stained-glass windows; when the sun hit them, prisms of color danced on the stairs. Quite spectacular.  I’m wondering—have you ever held a pane of stained glass in your hand, and then looked through it?  Hold that thought.

With firmly held truths about Who God Is, I am able to see how to live my life.  

Truly, his love is much like a glass pane through which I see and interpret life. 

As I write, it is early morning, and I am sitting on the porch. The birds are awake and chirping to each other in the trees, and a tiny hummingbird lights on my nearby feeder. How good, how creative, how given to detailed beauty is my God. Oh, and how smart of the hummingbird to come first thing in the morning for nourishment. [note to self]

When I call to mind the question about how a good God could allow suffering, I do so through the disposition of his mighty love and grace.  As though peering through a pane of red stained glass, I see everything else in light of it.  

And then I remember how God loved first by creating a man and a woman for face-to-face relationship with him.  And then he loved again by giving mankind freedom of choice. While he gave us every reason to love him, he would neither force nor coerce us for that would not be love.


When our first parents chose their own way, not his – sin, imperfection, disease and death became part of the human condition. With these, corruption and evil.

‘Stop it—just answer the question!' you say, 'How could God be loving if he allows suffering, especially of the innocent?’ 

Ah, well God answered the question for us, once and for all time.  Because though it was not fair, though he did not have to, God LOVED again.  He made a way for us to be in relationship with him, and not just for a lifespan, but forever.  But this way, the only way he could love and perfect, included suffering--and yes, the suffering of the innocent.  His Son, Jesus, would have to suffer to make it so.  And.he.did. The perfect Son of God chose to enter into our suffering to love us.  There has never been such a love.  Not of the Father, nor the Son.

But wait, there's more. The heart of God is moved by our suffering, and he comes and abides with us, if we will let him. Sometimes he heals the cause of the pain, other times God gives us his strength and presence through it. John captures this so well in his retelling of Jesus and the story of Lazarus.2

Funny thing - when I was in Christian grade school and a scripture verse was about to be written on the chalkboard, we would say, 'Make it John 11.35--come on, Mr. Bakker!' Why is that? Shortest verse in the entire Bible: two words - Jesus wept. Little did I know then that it spoke volumes about the heart of my Lord. Jesus did indeed weep, and of course, this is not the only time Scripture records Jesus' tears. But on this occasion, He wept because he knew his dear friends, Mary and Martha, were suffering at the death of their dear brother, Lazarus. Though they had sent for Jesus to come and heal Lazarus, Jesus had tarried in going, and Lazarus had died. Get this--Jesus knew that he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, but even so, upon seeing and hearing the sisters' heartbreak, Jesus wept too. Jesus will never leave you or me alone in our suffering--he will be present and at work.

When my little son, Danny, two years old, had kidney failure and his life's blood was ebbing out of him, I experienced a fearful, dreadful kind of suffering, but God was there. I felt his presence in the ICU wards as I held my little guy with IVs in both arms and legs, no medical solutions to be found. That is because God is moved by our suffering and enters into it with us.

And many times, God redeems through pain. Suffering is an opportunity for us to cry out to God. You see,

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.”3

And one thing I know - as a thinking, feeling woman of God, times of greatest trials have grown me more than any other times in life. I have found God near and present, trustworthy, compassionate and tender. And the prism of God's love, the stained glass pane through which I see and interpret life, has only grown brighter.

I guess that is why our Lord's brother, James, said to be joyful in times of trial.4God is at work and he is growing us into who we are meant to become. Suffering + God = joy? Hmmm...

Yes, because God is good, yes, he is always good:

God is with you - look for him,


Choose Joy #8

1 – John Stott, quoted in Is God Real? by Lee Stroble, p.137

3 - The Problem of Pain - by C.S. Lewis

4 - James 1.2-4:,NIV,NLT, three translations of empowering scriptural insights

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