“I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
--Matthew 28:20 NRSV
In this past Sunday’s sermon, I preached on Mark 8 and explained why Jesus had to suffer and die. I believe God became incarnate as Jesus Christ to once and for all demonstrate to us that God is with us even in the most terrible of moments. One of the main reasons I am a Christian is because I know God does not stay up in heaven removed from the pain of us mortals but has become one of us and experienced the worst this world has to offer. Furthermore, as I go through struggle and suffering in this life, God continues not to stay removed from me but remains with me in the midst of my pain.
When we experience suffering, we look for answers to why it is happening, and almost any answer will do. This is why people who should know better may latch onto the idea they are being punished by God, because even a bad answer is better than no answer. Humans are meaning-making beings, and making meaning out of chaos helps us cope with it. The worst kind of suffering is the kind that seems to lack meaning. I do believe we often can find meaning in our experiences of suffering (usually afterward), but I doubt we ever find a satisfactory answer for why God allows it to occur. When we come up empty in our attempts to find meaning in suffering and our theological answers turn out to make little sense, all we have to rely upon is that God is present with us no matter what. Lutheran minister and writer Nadia Bolz-Weber points out: “We want to go to God for answers, but sometimes what we get is God's presence.”
When I pray with people facing surgery or a medical procedure of some kind, I always pray for its success. I pray for the doctors, nurses, technicians, tests, medicines, etc. to all work as well as possible. I also pray for healing of the supernatural kind that we may not comprehend. I pray for a quick recovery and I pray for caregivers and family members. Then I pray for what may be the most important part of the prayer. I pray for God to enable the person and their loved ones to have a definite sense of God’s presence in the midst of it all. I pray for them to be able to trust that God is with them in these anxious moments, just as God will be with them every day in the future, just as God has been with them every day of their lives in the past.
In Christ, we see God is not absent from human suffering but is present with us in it. We may wish for answers, but I’ve learned sometimes those answers do not come. I think even more than answers people long for God’s presence. Sometimes they may have difficulty sensing God is near--even Jesus on the cross cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Yet, God was present in and with Jesus, just as God is present in and with us.
I routinely hear from people I minister to that they are not afraid to die, rather they are afraid to suffer before they die and they are afraid their loved ones will suffer after they die. My mother said similar words to me as she faced her own death. God does not promise we will be free from suffering, nor does God explain why we experience it. God does promise that God is present when suffering occurs, and God never leaves us alone. In Christ, we see that God refuses to stay away from us but is present with us no matter what.
Whether it is our suffering, the suffering of a loved one or the suffering of our world, we do not have emotionally satisfying answers as to why God allows it to happen. What we have instead is a God who has already experienced what we go through and continues to remain with us whatever we face in our lives. We may want God to take it away or to offer an explanation, but instead God gives us God’s self, just as God came to us in Jesus Christ. Hymn writer Brian Wren, describes this mystery in one of his hymns:
When pain and terror strike by chance, with causes unexplained,
when God seems absent or asleep, and evil unrestrained,
we crave an all-controlling force ready to rule and warn,
but find, far-shadowed by a cross, a child in weakness born.
I don’t have a satisfying answer for why suffering happens, but I do trust that God is always with us when we go through it.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
We're Park Hill Christian Church in KC MO. We seek to follow Jesus by praising God, loving those we meet and serving the vulnerable.
6601 Northwest 72nd Street, Kansas City, MO 64151 | 816-741-1851