Finding God in pain

More days than not, my life is shrouded in pain. I have struggled with back pain for many years. In sleep, in class, or with friends, I am constantly reminded of my body’s brokenness. When offered a seat, I decline just so I can make it through the remainder of the day. My days revolve around when I will be able to lay down and rest. At times, I am so exhausted that I have no energy to be with others. Numerous doctors appointments have let me down as I realized nothing could be done for my pain. I spend many days lying in bed alone, my only relief, while watching my siblings and friends living on pain-free. 

During those times, I sank into dark places. The physical pain wore on me emotionally and spiritually. I felt alone in my pain and angry with God. I didn’t understand why He would ask this of me; it seemed so unnecessary, so unfair. I repeatedly prayed to God for healing, andI know many of my family and friends were also praying over me. At times the pain would subside, but I still deal with intense pain today. 

I won’t deny that it has been very hard to hear God say, “no.” I’ve cried out to Him with a lonely and weary heart, only to receive no relief. In those times, I often asked, “Why, God? Why am I dealing with this pain? Why am I the only one of my friends in pain? Why won’t you take my pain away?” I will admit that many of my prayers came from pride; my prayers reflected a heart that felt entitled to a life without pain and struggle. I acted on the assumption that I deserved better, believing that God didn’t really know what I needed. 

Time and time again God would direct me to the book of Job. The Bible describes Job as a wealthy man who feared God and shunned evil. Even so, God allowed all Job’s family and riches to be taken from him. Job’s friends argued that his suffering must be a result of his sin, but Job remained confident that his suffering was not a punishment for sin. As Job’s suffering continued, he cried out to God in desperation, accusing Him of treating him like an enemy, and cursing the day of his birth (Job 13:24, 3:1). 

Yet God’s humbling response to Job is where the beauty in his pain lies.

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding…
Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place…
Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep?...
Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, 
or have you seen the storehouses of the hail,
which I have reserved for the time of trouble,
for the day of battle and war?...
Can you bind the chains of Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion?...
Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, that a flood of waters may cover you? Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go and say to you, ‘Here we are?’...
Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars and spreads his wings toward the south?
—Job 38:4, 12, 16, 22-23, 31, 34-35, 39:26

God’s answer to Job demonstrates His justice, but He speaks with patience and love. He does not punish Job or aim to fight with Job. Instead, He calls Job to look to creation, to see His powerful hand at work in the rain and the snow, the clouds and the stars. It is as if He is asking Job, Do you know all that I know? Have you had such wisdom since the beginning of time? Can you do these mighty wonders? Do you know who I am?

There is no other response but for these words to bring us to our knees. In the words of Job, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted…Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:2-3). God also exposes the meaning behind suffering in Job’s story. His suffering left him clinging to the worth of God and bowing in recognition of God’s glory. Job gained the riches of knowing God, which are incomparable to all worldly possessions. 

These powerful words may seem belittling at first, but God provides immense encouragement and rest in them. This is my faithful Creator who commands nature with might and wisdom. How can I doubt that He will not care for those He created in His very image? My wisdom is nothing in comparison to His omniscience. It would be foolish to assume I know better than He who sets each star in its place and summons every strike of lightning. So I may rest in peace knowing that my God will supply every need of mine according to His riches in glory (Philippians 4:19). 

By God’s grace, He has helped me to trust that He is working in my pain, working things too wonderful for me to know. Though I begged for physical healing, God’s answer to my prayer was healing for my spiritual brokenness. Even more than I asked for, I have gained a deeper understanding of God’s sovereignty and love. When I thought I needed relief, God knew I needed to know Him deeper. He has transformed my cry of “why” to a different plea: Lord, show me how my pain can be used for Your glory. Give me a glimpse of Your work in my suffering. 

Through His Word in Job, He said to me, This isn’t about you. And elsewhere He strengthens me: I will show you what it means to suffer for the sake of my Name (Acts 9:16).  I will sustain you when your burden is heavy, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). Entrust your soul unto me. I promise to restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you after you have suffered a little while. You will be overjoyed when my glory is revealed to you (1 Peter 4:13, 19, 5:10). 

There are still many days where I feel discouraged and angry over my pain. Praise God that His grace abounds in my sinful cries (Romans 5:20). God has reminded me over and over that our “light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Though I may only see the faintest glimmer of that glory, I am learning to trust in this promise. This glory will outshine all the pain I have ever felt, and from it I am only a moment away.

Struggling with pain has also widened my eyes to the reality of heaven. I long for the day God will wipe every tear from my eye and there will be no more mourning or pain (Revelation 21:4). In my pain lies a groaning for the promise of redemption (Romans 8:23). I long for the day when this promise is fulfilled, when my body is glorified and perfected to be like my Savior’s (Philippians 3:21).

If you are suffering with pain, physical or not, know that your Savior is near. He is walking with you and will carry your burdens and give you rest. Never cease in praying that God would bring miraculous healing. But trust Him if His answer isn’t what you desire. In all things, we must seek His glory. Whether in times of pain or comfort, I pray, Lord, help me to cling to you, to find my worth in you. I am humbled before your wisdom, and I surrender my suffering to you.

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