When Christians talk about God, they often describe him as love. It is a concept present throughout scripture — and even many nonreligious people find the idea of love being the force behind the universe appealing.
Most Christians believe that truly knowing God means feeling this love. Yet pain and suffering are unavoidable ways in which God teaches us about humility. Still, the reality of pain has caused many of us to turn away from the church — or worse, away from faith in God.
Unanswered questions plague us all. How could a good God allow such pain as war and disease and genocide? I can’t claim to have the answers to questions so many others have failed to answer, but what I do know is that in the midst of human suffering God is still good and to live fully, we must be willing to face our fear of pain.
Embracing pain is difficult. What do you do when everything seems to fall apart? That’s a question I had to deal with personally during my own 20-year-long desert experience that involved divorce, near bankruptcy, distance from God, and a near-death motorcycle accident.
In The Hard Road, I write about my near-death experience and how it forced me to face the pain I had been running from — and how it, strangely, allowed me to enter into a deeper relationship with God and a life full of joy.
Many of us have gone through similar trauma, and as I look back, I realize that if I hadn’t, I may never have been able to move into God’s glory that was waiting on “the other side of the cross.” Here are five lessons I learned about conquering pain and finding joy.
1. Surrender pride and let go of control.
“I’ve got this.” That’s what I’d say when I felt God nudge me about something that wasn’t quite right. I thought it was up to me to make things happen — and many men struggle with similar feelings. We think we should have it all together, especially when we feel tasked with the responsibility of being the breadwinners and taking care of our wives and children.
The fact is that things I had hoped and waited for, like reconciliation with my stepdaughters, happened while I was incapacitated. They didn’t occur as a result of my efforts. God showed me that he was the one managing my timeline, and he was the only one who could make things happen.
2. God can work good out of tragedy.
What has baffled my mind every day since I woke up 10 days after my accident is the idea that God cares about the details of our lives. When my family and I look back at all of the circumstances that led to my rescue, we know they were not accidental. They were strategic and on purpose — from the first responders who happened to be 50 feet away at a restaurant and the ambulance that was filling up at a gas station a block away to the safekeeping of my nearly severed spine and the doctor who said, “You must have a guardian angel.”
If we truly believe that he is a good God, then he has our best interest in mind and will cause good to come out of tragedy. We either believe this or we don’t — and this is the true test of our faith.
3. Don’t ask “why?” but rather “what?”
So many of us approach tragedy asking, “Why?” “Why did this happen to my wife” or “Why did this happen to me?” We take on a victim mentality that makes us feel like we can’t do anything about our circumstances.
Despite suffering in this world, God is on our side just as he was with his Son. When we are in pain, we should look to him to witness his deliverance, not asking, “Why?” but “What are you doing, Father?”
He will invite us to see him, his light, goodness, and love even in the midst of despair. He will lead each of us to a true, full, and fulfilling life, making us new along the way. There is an answer . . . it just may not look like what we expect.
4. If we want a deeper relationship with God, we will suffer.
For my heart to remain alive to divine love, it must engage in joy and sorrow. A heart that is fully awake to love cannot disown pain, and to believe that Christians will not suffer is naïve. Each of the disciples suffered, almost all of them unto death.
God is a jealous God, and we are his “Beloved.” Much like a jealous husband, he will furiously protect us from that which separates us from his love. Proverbs 6:34 says, “Jealousy is a husband’s fury. Therefore, he will not spare in the day of vengeance.”
Sometimes the Father’s jealous guarding will cause us pain because he is bringing us from our choices that have led us astray and back to the place of pure love. Sometimes righting our path means that other things must fall away or be left behind.
5. The only way to overcome pain is with him.
God has given us the perfect example in his Son. Jesus cried out to be saved from the cross, yet was fully surrendered to his Father even in his greatest pain. He endured the cross because he knew there would be joy on the other side of pain (see Hebrews 12:2).
The only way we can deal with pain in a healthy manner is to do it with him, the one who underwent more grief than we could ever understand. When we embrace God’s love, allowing him to love us fully, all other forms of love pale in comparison.
If we but believe that everything in the universe exists to display his love to us, we will catch glimpses of it and come to know Him. As I John 4:16 says, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” Without coming to know his love, our souls die.
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When I look back at my story, my eyes still well up with tears. Not tears of sorrow, but out of a deep and personal actualization of the Father’s love as shown through my near-death experience. My hope is that you will also experience love as a son or daughter from a good and jealous Father.
The opinions expressed in this piece belong to the author.
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