What is God’s Response to Suffering?
Between sessions, my hours were disproportionately split between cautious hope and (more often) staring exhaustedly into nowhere. And all of them were spent wondering if God cares about anxiety disorders.
In your moments of struggle, maybe you’ve felt the same. An unexpected doctor’s report. Loss of a job. Crumbling of a marriage. Feeling distant from your children – or wishing that you had them.
In those situations, it’s one thing to cognitively know God cares. But does He only care from a distance? Or is He actually moved by and responsive to your pain?
Here are three Biblical examples of how God feels and responds when encountering suffering:
First, we see Jesus respond to a man suffering physically (Mark 1:40-41). Jesus is preaching throughout the region and healing many. Hearing about this, a man with a skin disease tracks Him down. The man drops to his knees and begs Jesus to heal him. Seeing the great physical and emotional suffering this man has been enduring, Mark writes that Jesus is “moved with compassion.”
Most scholars agree that this is more than just feeling bad for him; it has connotations of “feeling it in your gut.” That’s the response of Jesus to his suffering – a gut-moving, compassionate touch.
Similarly, the Gospel of Matthew tells of an empathetic Jesus responding to a wandering crowd in distress (Matthew 9:36). Jesus, always busy, crosses over the Sea of Galilee with his disciples, who are very much looking forward to a break. But we read that Jesus sees this crowd that’s milling about, waiting for Him to show up (even though most of them have no idea who He really is).
Upon seeing the crowd’s aimlessness and distress, Jesus is once again “moved in his gut,” responding to their spiritual exhaustion with compassionate love.
Finally, we see God’s response to the suffering of His people, Israel (Isaiah 10, Jeremiah 51). Through the prophets, God warns Israel to forsake their idols, care for the poor, and live holy lives. They refuse to change their ways, so God raises up the nations of Assyria and Babylon to take His people into exile.
But eventually, God brings vengeance for His people’s suffering. God pronounces judgment upon these nations for their sins – including for the suffering inflicted on His people. The pain of His children angers God and brings Him to action.
So what good is any of this? Why does this matter in the midst of your world collapsing?
It matters because God is moved by and responds to your pain. In his book, “Faith Seeking Understanding,” Dr. Daniel Migliore concludes that “God is present as co-sufferer with all the wretched of the earth, whether in cancer wards or in concentration camps.”
In other words, your very present pain is seen by God; He is present with you and is grieved by a world that causes His children to suffer. He sees your pain, and like any good father, chooses to respond (Psalm 103:13).
In her article “When God’s Sovereignty Scares You,” Keri Seavey reminds us that “when we feel like God is distant, indifferent, or uncaring toward us in our suffering, the cross stands as compelling evidence that He’s not.”
The cross is God’s ultimate response to the brokenness of humanity – and that includes your pain and suffering. He walks through every season of life with you, seeing that exhaustion and frustration life can bring, reminding you that He is so compassionate towards you that He’s already responded.
That response will only be partially realized in the here and now. But the ultimate experience of God’s response is coming soon when “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev. 21:4)
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