We have all watched tragic events descending unexpectedly on others. We have also traversed our own seasons of suffering and grief. Along with that, we witness loved ones succumbing to cancer or other illnesses. Then the nightly news hits us with senseless killings, especially those related to school shootings. The amount of pain accumulated by all of this can be overwhelming. So are the questions that come: Why is this happening? What is the point? And where is God in all the pain? Suffering does that for the human race. It provokes the deeper questions, often with few answers.
My own story is no different. The bottom dropped out of my life in my mid-30s when a church plant I had begun with high hopes had to be shut down. I was left in financial difficulty, emotional turmoil, and spiritual darkness. Out of the pain, the questions erupted: Why was this happening to me? What was the point? And where was God in all of this?
I cannot give quick or easy answers to the suffering we endure. But I am struck by something Jesus says in the gospels. After healing a paralyzed man on the Sabbath, he is harshly rebuked by the Pharisees. They believed that no work should be done on the Sabbath, even the work of healing. Jesus’ response is telling: “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working” (John 5:17). There it is. The Father is always at work, not only sustaining what He has created but redeeming it, healing it, and helping it to flourish. That is what the Father is always doing. As the Son, Jesus just follows the Father’s lead, watching what the Father is doing and then doing that (vv. 18-19).
This is the surprise of the Kingdom. The Father is working. The Son watches and follows. And the Spirit is doing His job as well. The redemptive work of the Kingdom is always going on around us and hopefully in us. This doesn’t directly answer the question of suffering, but offers something that may end up being better. God is always up to something, even in the midst of pain and tragedy.
Looking back on that abyss from my mid-30s, I can honestly say that anything good that has ever happened in my life since then has come out of that crucible. I couldn’t see it or feel it. No one could have ever convinced me of that possibility then. In fact, I was furious with God at the time. But the Father was at work. And now I am so grateful.
If God is always working, perhaps our questions can change as well. Instead of just asking why this is happening to me, maybe we can ask something else: “What is God up to here? How is He working?” Often we won’t know the answer then, but the question itself can dispel the darkness with hope.
I am slowly learning to be confident that God is always at work — every day, everywhere, in everyone. There is no evil, no suffering, no pain that is exempt. To see His work in my life, even through the suffering, has been liberation. To see His work nowin my ministry is wonder.
So what is God up to in your life? What is He up to in the lives of those around you?
Start asking. And watch what happens.