We’ve all heard it–this idea that when we’re suffering, it’s God testing us. That he sent our pain, our cancer, our circumstances, the death of a loved one, in some kind of sovereign refining plan. There are even hymns we sing that encourage this notion.
Which, I believe, could not be further from the truth. In fact, I find this idea so wrong and twisted that there are hymns I simply won’t sing at church. One of the greatest offenders, to me, is the hymn I Asked the Lord. One verse says this:
Lord, why is this, I trembling cried
Wilt Thou pursue thy worm to death?
“Tis in this way” The Lord replied
“I answer prayer for grace and faith”
Even typing this, I’m shaking my head. No. When I pray for grace and faith, God doesn’t rub his hands together and say, “great, now you’re going to hurt.” He does not pursue his ‘worm to death’ when I ask him for grace and faith. Instead, he draws near to his daughters and sons and walks with us through our suffering.
Does it sometimes feel like things in the world are pursuing me to death? Absolutely. But is God the cause? No. He is the remedy. He is the only one who can make that misery into something beautiful and productive. God doesn’t force me to drink a cup of suffering–Jesus already did that for me. No. God redeems my suffering.
I’m not going to make a huge argument here as to why I don’t believe that a healing God is also the hurter, and why I won’t sing about God bringing about pain to burn away our rough edges. Instead, what I want to meditate on today is this:
Suffering is a test–but not of us–of God.
Suffering is the hot iron that jolts us out of the day-to-day and forces us to ask all the big questions. Is God there? Does he care? What does this mean? How can he be good when he’s letting this happen? What promises has he actually made? What can I hold on to when everything is falling apart?
I think that God comes to our table of suffering eager to answer these questions. Eager to sit with us as we cry, and curse, and rage. Eager to simply be with us. Eager to listen, and comfort, and teach. Eager to make himself known.
In suffering, God invites us to put him to the test. The darkest place is the truest test of light–its existence, its brightness, its warmth. The saddest place is a test of God’s joy and peace. (Is is possible? It is enduring? Is it made of strong stuff?) The worst news is a test of God’s good news. (Is it better than the bad news? Is it so much bigger as to dwarf the bad news?)
Suffering is a test.
And God has already told us the outcome: He will pass the test. But he will subject himself to it time and again, because through it he proves himself to us. Makes himself known. Over . . . and over . . . and over.
Through suffering, things that we believed can become things we know. Because they are tested. Through suffering, things we hoped before can be proved true. Because they are tested.
God, in his mercy, takes our strands of suffering and uses them. He takes destructive things like cancer and uses them to build things–relationships, love, faith. He takes the otherwise meaningless and imbues it with meaning. He didn’t cause the suffering, but he has committed himself to make it worth it.
Can you imagine that? An economy of grace where God has promised to use evil for good? A God who’s not just getting rid of evil, or even erasing it, but using it? Who twists it to his purpose? Who uses it in my life as a test of Himself, by which I can know him more?
Whatever the outcome of Heidi’s cancer, I know I’ll be able to say,
When Heidi had cancer, I met God.
That is a victory worth singing about.