“Why isn’t God helping me?”
If you find yourself asking this question, you are not the first to do so. Perhaps you are asking a variation of it, such as “Why is God silent?” or “Where is God?” The question is not necessarily unbiblical nor ungodly. It is essentially the same question Jesus asked on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mat 27:46). One major difference, however, between Jesus’ question and ours is that Jesus truly was forsaken by God. His Father really had abandoned him. And that makes all the difference in the world for us as we ask the same question about our situation. Jesus was forsaken so that his people never would be. Jesus was abandoned by the Father at the cross so that you and I can be assured and confident that God will always help us, that God will never forsake us (Ps 40:11; Ps 37:28). So, as we attempt to make meaning out of our suffering, “God is not helping me” is not a valid interpretation! So then, what meaning do we make of our pain?
Jesus’ words on the cross are actually quite helpful here. For the Jew of Jesus’ day who was watching the event take place or listening to the story of Jesus’ death, the words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” were not just an expression of pain to God. No, these are the words that begin Psalm 22. For most of you, if I simply said, “In the beginning…” you could easily finish the sentence – “God created the heavens and the earth.” Likewise, for the Jewish audience of the day, when Jesus quoted Psalm 22:1, it was a passage they knew so well that they could fill in the rest of the words themselves. So by quoting this single verse, Jesus gives Psalm 22 as the key to understanding both his suffering and our own.
This Psalm tells the story of someone in the midst of terrible pain. Can you find yourself in any of these verses? God seems silent and distant to this person (v. 1). He was hurt and humiliated by friends and family (v. 6). He’d been attacked without cause and was exhausted by the pain (v. 14, 16). He has lost absolutely everything, even the shirt off his back (v. 18). If there is anyone who knows your pain, it is this person. When Jesus cried out those few words about being forsaken, it was an abbreviated way of saying all of these things at once. The person suffering in Psalm 22 is him. But that’s not all he was saying, for the Psalm does not end there.
Jesus knew that his story did not end in defeat. A wise mentor once told me, “The story always ends well for the believer.” Jesus’ story is the supreme example of this. Who would have imagined that it would end well for the man who was bleeding, asphyxiating, and weeping as he hung from the cross? And yet, as the story ended well for him, so it ends well for all who trust in him. Is Jesus in your story? If not, it is hopeless. But if he is, your story is brimming with Hope!
If you go on to read the rest of the Psalm, the very person who had suffered so greatly in the first half of the Psalm goes on to interpret his pain redemptively in the second half. Jesus knew that, despite all he was experiencing in the moment, his Father was actually at work in his suffering. Though it seemed like proven fact that God did not love that Man hanging from the cross, Jesus understood it as a moment of great endearment between the Two of them (John 10:17). Though God seemed silent at the scene of his execution, Jesus knew that no moment in history would ever speak as loud and clear (Ps 22:27). Did you know that God is at work in your pain? Do you see the love of Christ for you in your pain? If you doubt such things, look no further than the cross, the key to understanding the mystery of suffering and the love of God.
Like Jesus, we cannot suffer well if we automatically equate pain with the absence of God. We will often not be able to know the exact reason why we are suffering, but by his word we can know that he loves and sees and hears us (Gen 16:13). And as we learn to hear his word, we will learn to suffer well. We will often not be able to feel the presence of God with us in our pain, but we can choose to trust the promise of his presence instead (Acts 9:4). Ironically, feeling follows faith, not the other way around. We must learn to do as C.H. Spurgeon (a man of great suffering) once said, “When we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His heart.”
So when suffering enters your life, don’t simply ask the question, “Why isn’t God helping me?” and leave it at that. No, learning from the Man of Sorrows, we have to interpret our pain by what we know to be true of God, rather than interpreting God by what our pain seems to say about him. God is not silent! Sometimes we just lack the ears to hear his voice.