When Life Hurts

Sometime ago, a friend who had gone through some difficult things in her life asked me, “How do I trust God when I’ve been hurt by life?”

Her question was not a cynical one, but a very sincere one. She really wanted some answers from the word of God. And she found them. But what she found and what brought healing to her life were not just answers, but the answer, namely a deeper relationship with God.

We all have experienced and will experience suffering, pain, and loss. And in order to get through the difficulties of life, we are going to need a biblical view of suffering.

How do we respond to suffering in a way where we can experience the grace and peace of God?    

The reason for pain and adversity

First, although we won’t always know it, there are reasons for pain and adversity. In John 11, John writes about a family who Jesus loved.

“Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” John 11:1-3
When you study the gospels, you will find that Jesus had a special relationship with this family (Mary, Martha and Lazarus). He loved this family and they loved Him.

One of those family members, Lazarus, who shared this special relationship with Jesus, was sick. Contrary to what the skeptics have imagined, there is no contradiction between the existence of a loving God and the existence of sickness, pain, and death. Those who are deeply loved by the Lord can and will experience difficult circumstances in this life.  

Before we reflect on the blessings of being in relationship with Jesus, it’s important to consider some general reasons for why suffering, pain, and death exist in our world.    

To begin with, suffering and death alert us to the fact that there is something wrong in our world—sin. Death and suffering were the result of sin, or man’s decision to act independently of God. And essentially that decision came from believing the lie that God is not good.

Although sickness and death today are not always the direct consequence of sin in our present lives, they’re always the result of living in a fallen sinful world.

What’s more, suffering and death act as a siren to alert us that there is something terribly wrong in our world—that the world is not the way God created it to be.

Secondly, why do suffering and death exist? To direct us to where we can find grace, comfort, and eternal hope. When Lazarus was sick, John records: “So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” Notice that love and sickness led Lazarus’ sisters to send for Jesus.

People often see a contradiction between a God of love and the existence of pain in our world. Some people view God in the light of their difficult circumstance and conclude that God is unjust. But Mary and Martha did not look to their circumstances to derive their view of God. They saw their circumstances through the lens of the love of Jesus and turned to Him in their hour of need.

There will be times when we won’t understand why we are going through certain trials and tribulations. But if we learn to view all circumstances through the lens of the love of God, we can find peace and hope in the midst of the storm

I so appreciate J.C. Ryle’s thoughts here:

“Mark the simple humility of their language about Lazarus. They call Him “the one You love…” They do not say, “He who loves Thee, believes in Thee, serves Thee,” but “the one You love.” Martha and Mary were deeply taught of God. They had learned that Christ’s love towards us, and not our love towards Christ, is the true ground of expectation, and true foundation of hope. Blessed, again, are all they that are taught likewise! To look inward to our love toward Christ is painfully unsatisfying: to look outward to Christ’s love towards us is peace.”

Thirdly, the reason for Lazarus’ being sick was to glorify God by displaying the resurrection power of His Son. Notice in verse 4 we read:

“But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Lazarus was already dead when Jesus said this, but He knew the end result would be the glory of God, not death. Jesus also knew that the events recorded in this chapter would set the religious leaders on a determined quest to kill Jesus. This meant the end result would be that the Son of God may be glorified in His death and resurrection.

Moreover, the purpose for displaying the glory of His resurrection was so that others would believe on Him unto life eternal. But at the time, Mary and Martha did not understand the bigger picture and end goal of Jesus.

God can and still works miracles today. But His glorious power and worth is seen not only in miracles of deliverance, but through Christians, who even when they go through hardship, can experience hope and peace in Christ. It’s possible because the living Christ dwells in the heart of all who receive Jesus as Savior and Lord.  

The relationship that provides the answer

There are reasons for pain and adversity and finally, more importantly, there's a relationship that provides the answer. In other words, it’s through a loving relationship with the Lord that we obtain everlasting hope and the grace to get us through difficult times. As Christian author Henri Nouwen noted, “Getting answers to my questions is not the goal of the spiritual life. Living in the presence of God is the greater call.”

When life is hard, we need more than reasons; we need a relationship. We need to know first of all, the promise of His redeeming love.  

Have you ever felt like God was indifferent about answering your prayers or apathetic to your needs?  

Again, I appreciate the fact that, although Lazarus was sick, his sisters didn’t doubt Jesus’ love for Him. On the contrary, they appealed to Jesus and sent for Him on the bases of His love for their brother. (John 11:3b)

However, as time went on, and Jesus seemed to be taking His time, the sisters may have began to think, “Doesn’t He love our brother? Why is He taking so long? He should have been here by now.”

When Jesus got the message that Lazarus was sick, He stayed where He was for two days longer (John 11:6). And by the time He showed up, Lazarus had died. In fact, he had been dead for four days (John 11:17).

Soon after, both Mary and Martha said to Him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:21, 32)

How would you respond if God didn’t work things out as you expected Him to? Would you conclude that God doesn’t care? No matter what is happening in your life, you can and must always be assured that God loves you.

Notice that before the Apostle John, the writer of this gospel, continued to reveal how the events in Lazarus’ life unfolded, he writes in verse 5: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” 

Why would the Apostle John insert that Jesus loved this family before continuing to write about the events that unfolded in their lives? Trials can lead us to question God’s love. Therefore John’s parenthetical words were an important reminder that showed the testing of their faith was not an absence of His love.

Although Jesus seemed to take His time, it wasn’t because He didn’t love this family. On the contrary, it was because He loved them and us, (the readers of John’s gospel), that Jesus didn’t immediately go to them when they sent for Him. And because Jesus delayed in coming to them, they got to experience the glory of His resurrection power in their lives.

I’m glad that when my surgeon looked at my CT scans 5 years ago he didn’t say, “I can remove these cancerous tumors. However, I’m not going to do so because it will cause you a lot of pain.” I needed a surgeon who was caring and competent enough to hurt me in order to help me—to cut me in order to cure me. And I trusted him to do so.

How much more should we trust God, who created us and in love spared not His Son to redeem us, to work all things for good?

There will be times when we won’t understand why we are going through certain trying circumstances. Mary and Martha didn’t understand. But if we learn to view all circumstances through the lens of the love of God, we can trust that if He allows the wounding, He does so with a good outcome in mind.  

Secondly, when it feels like God is delayed, we must recall to mind not only the promise of His love, but the providence of the Lord—that He’s in control.

When Jesus waited two days longer in the place where they sent for Him, He knew exactly what He was doing. God’s delays are not always His denials. After hearing the message that Lazarus was ill, Jesus said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4)

God is not only in control of the outcome of what He purposes to do through the delay, He’s in control of the beginning, the end, and everything that happens in between. Often the best work that God does in our lives happens while we are in the waiting season.

The waiting season is not a wasted period. Our sufferings are never in vain when we hold on to the truth and promises of God to work through them for a greater good. (Romans 8:28)

We must wait on the Lord and persist in prayer, especially when it feels like time is running out. God is not bound by time. He’s not limited by time. Keep praying until God answers, yes, no, or wait. Keep praying because prayer not only changes things, prayer will change us.

When it feels like God has forgotten what time it is, it’s vital that we recall to mind the promise of His love and the providence of the Lord. He may not show up when we want Him to, but we can trust that His timing is always perfect.

Thirdly, when life is hard we can be blessed to know not only the promise of His redeeming love and the providence of our reigning Lord, but lastly, the power of a resurrection life.

By the time Jesus showed up in town, Lazarus was dead for four days. But even though He knew He would raise Lazarus from the dead, at the funeral, He enters into their sorrow. Jesus wept. (John 11:35)

And after being deeply moved by the grief of those He loved, Jesus commanded that the stone in front of Lazarus’ tomb be rolled away. But Martha responded, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” (John 11:39)

She forgot that time doesn’t restrict the Lord. In addition, she forgot that even when things look like they’ve gone from bad to worse, Jesus is still in control.  

I love the way Jesus responded to Martha: “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40). Oh, and she most certainly did. At the command of Jesus, Lazarus walked out of that tomb. (John 11:38-44)

The sickness, death, and raising of Lazarus was not just about Lazarus. There was a bigger picture. Jesus came into the world to give His life for our sins so that all who believe might know a loving relationship with Him in this life and for all eternity. (John 12:9-10)

That’s the greater miracle. When you come into a saving relationship with Jesus through repentance and faith, you receive the power of a resurrected life. When you are given this resurrected life in the Spirit you can live a life that honors and glorifies God. You have the inner strength to trust God even when life hurts. You can trust God because in Christ, we have a living hope in this life and forevermore. (Galatians 2:20; 1 Peter 1:3-5)

If it hasn’t happened already, there will come a time when it will feel like God is indifferent to your prayers, that He’s forgotten about you or that He’s let too much time go by. In times like these, you must draw near to God and firmly embrace these absolute truths: God loves you, He’s in control, and His timing is always perfect.

In His service,
Pastor Marco