As I sit on the second floor of a historic home in Baltimore, MD, listening to my favorite musician, John Mark McMillan, sing about Gods love through brokenness, I am reminded of just how much pain there has been for so many over this past season of life.
In this season of life I have walked with a few families who lost loved ones through suicide, I have witnessed dear friends lose their grasp on “forever” as their relationships have ended. I have watched wives become widows as the love of their life has gone to the other side of eternity. I have watched as believer’s scratch and claw at one another, forgetting that the world is judging us through how we love one another through our imperfections, not through punishing one another because of our lack of perfection. I have watched as families and friends mourn the losses of those who have passed away unexpectedly. I have watched as passionate, God-loving individuals are left speechless as they suffer the consequences of strokes, blood diseases, cancers, and other setbacks regarding their health.
And throughout all of this, I have felt the not-so-subtle tension that many of these people have wrestled with. That is the tension of trying to find purpose in their pain.
Amidst our pain many of us wonder if God is so good, why are we seemingly swimming through an endless sea of bad? If God is so faithful then why does it feel like we and our loved ones are being cheated? Cheated of love, time, security, energy, and joy?
And unfortunately it seems we wont have the answers we desire until we are face to face with God, when the questions really wont matter that much anymore. But here we are, trying to remain faithful despite our fears, trying to be spiritual when the physical doesn’t makes sense, and trying to find a purpose through the pain we experience.
So where do we start?
18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; He rescues those whose spirits are crushed.
This verse, one written by David- a man who knows all about pain and depression, some of which was self-induced, really flips the script by showing us that there truly isn’t a correlation between a lack of pain and a closeness to God. In fact, what David is saying is that we are going to experience things in this life that are going to leave us brokenhearted, but God isn’t the heartbreaker. David is saying that we are going to experience moments, sometimes prolonged ones, in this life that leave our spirits crushed, but God isn’t the villain, He is actually the hero.
Which puts a whole new thought behind the often asked question of suffering believers: “Why me?” One I would like to rephrase here momentarily. But in order to do that, I think we must first look at a popular story about Jesus and a man named Lazarus.
The story of Jesus and Lazarus is one that only the author John prioritized jotting down in his account of Jesus life, but it is one of necessity when it comes to understanding the dilemma of finding purpose through pain.
The story goes that one of Jesus dear friends, Lazarus, had become sick and the diagnoses didn’t seem to be one that was encouraging, and we are all too familiar with those aren’t we? The diagnoses was so discouraging that word started to spread to those who loved Lazarus, letting them know that the time to say goodbye was rapidly approaching. But when word gets to Jesus, part of his response to the pain of Lazarus is one that we must dive into:
4 But when Jesus heard about it he said…it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.”
Did you catch that? Not just the reason, but also the response of Lazarus pain isn’t because Lazarus wasn’t close to Jesus, because Lazarus was literally as close to Jesus as anyone else, but it all happened “for the Glory of God.” The reason for this pain, and the expected response was so that way Jesus will receive glory through this unfortunate mess.
To even further his point Jesus tells his disciples, who openly struggle with their faith at times, that they will “really” believe because of what Lazarus is going through.
And understandably so, people are upset about what is going on with Lazarus, the man that many of them deeply cared for. Mary even tried to transfer blame to Jesus when through her anger and tears she says: “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But,
33 When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled.
And I have spent a lot of time thinking and looking for the reasons that maybe Jesus was angry in these moments, but then later the Bible even states that he wept through this moment as well. And it seems to me that the reason that Jesus puts so much emotion into his response is because in just a matter of a few days, people have already forgotten why they are going through this. And if you remember, Jesus already said:
4 …it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.”
And I think that in our pain we can often forget this as well. I think we can often settle for asking the question “why me”, when in reality, Jesus is desperately trusting us with such a large responsibility, to have purpose in our pain, that our response could be “why not me?”
Why wouldn’t Jesus trust us to make him famous through our mess?
Why wouldn’t Jesus ask us to bring about an incredible light through our darkest times?
Why wouldn’t Jesus give us the opportunity to swim against the grain in the moments when everyone else is questioning?
Why wouldn’t Jesus allow us to use His power to declare to everyone else that we still have purpose amidst our pain?
Out of everyone in the world, why not us? Why wouldn’t we be the ones to use our pain to bring God glory?
Because even in the midst of our worst fears and most painful moments, God is still willing to use us. He hasn’t abandoned us and He certainly hasn’t given up on us. It seems, in fact, that He is calling on us.
28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
No matter what it is you are going through, God has not left you. He is just as much for you, He hurts and weeps with you, but He has granted you with a larger responsibility. He may not have created your pain, but He has given you purpose in it.
I am thankful for you. You who wake up and choose to battle when you feel like giving up. You who are faithful to the cause of Christ even when you are walking through tough times. You who have the ability to change the world by allowing your faith to be lived out despite your fear.
You are my heroes, whoever and wherever you are. Keep fighting, you have purpose beyond your wildest imagination.