The God of the Suffering
When I graduated from college I expected that finding a job would be simple. Yes, the economy is still in a slump. Yes, I’m just one of thousands of college graduates with a degree in hand but no substantial experience. Yes, my ideal job would be helping to make movies which is one of the hardest industries to get into without substantial social capital (that is, knowing a guy). But I didn’t worry about all that. I had worked hard to get my degree and I knew that the perfect job would show up in short order. I trusted that God would take care of everything. All I wanted was to serve him with my work. I felt confident that he would take care of the rest, despite all the obstacles.
Instead I spent the next four months unemployed with no prospects. Application after application disappeared into the system without a word of feedback. Jobs I was extremely interested in sent polite email rejections. With each week I became a little more desperate. At first I only sent applications to TV stations and studios. Then I started applying to well paying white collar positions. Then I started applying to minimum wage jobs whose only requirement was a high school diploma. Nothing worked out. I couldn’t even get to the interview stage.
As I’ve mentioned before, I got a little downhearted.
I felt awful. I was afraid of the future. I was afraid of not being able to provide for my wife. I was afraid that one of us would get seriously ill and there would be no money or insurance to pay for treatment. I felt like I was a failure. More than that, my trust in God had been shaken a bit. I had absolute faith that God would make everything work out perfectly. It didn’t. Naturally I was confused.
I found a book that helped me. It’s called The Healing Path, by Dr. Dan Allender. The book helped me unpack what had been happening to me over these last four months. It helped me understand. I picked the book up last Friday, which was perfect timing. I had been interviewed for a position with the state government. It was a good job with good benefits and I felt like I nailed the interview. They told me that I would know if I had the position by Friday. Friday came and went without news. My hopes were crushed. I was back to square one. When I started reading my unemployment wounds had been freshly opened. Yet by the time Monday rolled around I felt at peace about not having a job. This happened because of the books simple message:
Everybody in this world will suffer, even Christians. But suffering itself is not evil.
It seems like a pretty depressing and confusing message. But it helped a great deal. Everyone will suffer to some extent. My own suffering pales in comparison to others. Yet at the same time it is real. The book affirmed my feelings. It said that it was alright to suffer. It is okay to go through trails and pain. The question is how we will react to that pain. Some people react by becoming bitter or paranoid. Others become detached from the world. For me, I reacted with a varnish of optimism covering a well of pain. I did my best to remember that God was watching out for me. That everything would turn out okay. The book reminded me that often times things go from bad to worse. Great Christians who were far closer to God than myself have lived lives of one tragedy happening after another. I have no guarantee that I will find a job. I have no guarantees that I will not suffer from cancer, that my children wont die at a young age, or that I will die peacefully in my sleep. The only guarantee I have is that everything will come out right in the very end, after death, and that God will not abandon me in my suffering. He will be there. He has many things to teach me that can only be learned through pain. Will I accept those teachings? Or will I let suffering turn me bitter?
When I was young I heard a story with a particular message. The moral was that we should thank God not only for the beauty of the rose but for it’s thorns as well; that we should thank God for bad times just as we thank him for good ones. I never accepted this teaching. How can we thank God for bad things? I can understand accepting bad things. I can understand living with them and learning from them. But I struggled with understanding how I can thank God for bad things. I still struggle with it. But I’m starting to understand.
God is very strange sometimes. Just as I became at peace about my unemployment I got a call. It was from the state, and they were offering me the job. I accepted. Today is my first day! I’m so happy and excited. Yet as I thanked God for his provision I had something else to say to him. “Lord…some really awful things are going to happen in my life, aren’t they? I’ll have to see my parents die. My brothers will die. My wife will die. My children might die, or suffer, or turn away from you. People will get sick. I will be in pain. I will suffer.” I contemplated my words for a moment. In the end all I could say is “But you’ll be with me, wont you? And someday you’ll wipe away all of my tears. I can count on that.”
I still trust that God has a plan for me. I no longer trust that I have any idea of what that plan might look like.