“God won’t let you suffer beyond what you can endure.” Has anyone ever said that to you? I have said it in sermons occasionally, but I am wondering about it. It’s not the most sensitive thing for someone to hear who is experiencing extremely difficult circumstances. To the person who feels that they are at the end of their tether and they don’t feel that anyone is holding the other end it can seem trite or even insulting. To the person in constant pain it is almost an accusation – do you think it’s too bad? Rubbish: you should be able to cope with this if you trust God enough!
The problem I have is that I want to believe it. I think I do believe it, based on my own experience. But while it may be true that we can look back and say, “Yes, it was true,” when we are up to our necks in ‘it’ then we cannot easily see things from that perspective. When you are screaming in pain the last thing you want to do is think about well-intended platitudes.
I am sure that God empathises with our pain, distress, anxiety or whatever we are going through. After all, we are reminded, God the Father experienced bereavement at Easter and the Son endured extreme pain and ultimately separation from the Father in death. Before Easter Sunday comes Good Friday.
I am sure too that God is with us. His Spirit knows the deep within us and interprets what we are unable to articulate as prayers in the throne room of heaven – prayers that are heard and cherished. Some of the most profound theology is incarnational: God with us, Jesus who will never leave us…
Please don’t think I am having a crisis of faith here. I am having a crisis of Christians. We too often emulate Job’s friends alongside those who are suffering – trying to offer rational explanations, looking for someone to blame, praying harder, claiming things in Jesus’ name – when I think that what we really need to be are believing friends who will sit, wait, endure alongside, travel with. Rather than looking for the answers or try to make sense of what is happening we need people who will hug us, cry with us, laugh with us, talk with us.
When we have come through we have the right to say that God was with us, that he kept us, that his grace was sufficient for us, that we did endure. Nobody else has the right to proclaim that on our behalf.
And we need to bear one more thing in mind, dear Christians. Death may have been defeated as an eternal consequence, but it is still a physical reality for each one of us eventually, even well-meaning Christians and those who pray for healing. Death can be a freedom from pain and suffering, an end to misery: in that sense you could even describe as one way in which we are ‘healed’, made whole, become fully human. Nobody wants a painful death, but if the message of Easter tells us anything it is that our faith assures us that the moment when we are translated from this life to the next need not be feared.
Be blessed, be a blessing.