"The Lord is near to the broken hearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit."
Where is God when it hurts? This is the question posed in the book by the same title that is written by Philip Yancey. Yancey discusses both physical and emotional pain in the book. Physical pain is pain that is caused by physical injury and/or physical illness. This type of pain varies in intensity ranging from mild discomfort to overwhelming waves of pain. Some pain, like childbirth, can have great benefits associated with it while other types of pain seem to bear no blessing at all. Unlike the pain of childbirth that comes in waves and ends after the birth process, those struggling with cancer, losing a limb, or chronic pain from something like arthritis often do not experience and end to their pain. The most that they can hope for is a sense of managing the pain. It may be hard for those struggling with chronic pain to see pain as a precious gift from God that signifies that something is wrong and needs our attention. It helps us to realize where our bodies begin and end. For example, we may not be consciously aware of where our thumb ends unless we hit it with a hammer. The nerves signal very clearly where the body ends or begins, in order for us to keep our bodies from injury. Without physical pain we would do horrendous damage to our body without realizing it. Without the discomfort of being cold or hungry we would not put warmer clothes on or eat. Without physical pain we would not remove our hand from a hot burner.
Emotional pain is every bit as real as physical pain, but in comes in different forms. It comes in the form of loneliness, anxiety, fear, anger, insecurity, broken-heartedness, and sadness. Emotional hurts also come in intensities from a mild uneasiness to an overwhelming hurt. Interestingly emotional pain can be so intense that it physically hurts us. I remember one time that a car came around the corner and almost hit our neighbor’s child. I screamed and doubled over as my stomach cramped due to the tension I was feeling. Emotional hurts should also be recognized as a stimulus to correct various situations in life. We need to realize our ability to feel emotional pain is also God-given. Without emotional pain we may not be stimulated to confront unhealthy relationships, work environments, or learn to take care of ourselves during stressful situations.
Now, in going back to our original question – “Where is God when it hurts?” Psalm 34:18 tells us the answer to that important question. It says, "The Lord is near to the broken hearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit." If we believe this verse, then we have to believe when we are hurting that God is very near. Does that mean we will always "feel" His presence? Not always! Men like David, Isaiah, and Jeremiah all vocalized questions about where God was in their difficult circumstances. At times they felt deserted. While our emotions are real, they are not always based upon the truth. If we "feel" or "think" God is far away when we hurt, we need to remember that it is not based on the truth. It is a lie of the enemy and maybe even a sense of individuality in our experience.
Another question that we might find ourselves struggling with, is, "Does God care that I hurt?" Today’s verse states that He does!. Christ Himself experienced pain. He got hungry, cold, and tired. He was beaten, whipped, had hair plucked out, and was crucified which is an extremely painful way to die. He felt emotional pain. He was lonely, disappointed, betrayed, falsely accused, and misunderstood. The Bible says Christ lived and suffered so we would know that we have a high priest who understands the feelings of our infirmities. (Hebrews 4) As we suffer in the same ways that He did, it gives us a clearer picture of the love that Christ has for us. He chose to suffer to demonstrate His love for us.
Why would God permit pain? First, trials mature us and He is committed to completing the work He began in us and physical pain is one of the tools He uses. (James 1:2-4 and Philippians 1:6) 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 also says that God comforts us so that we may comfort others.
MMM…I think these verse actually address our original question. "Where is God when it hurts?" In the church! A part of our calling as Christians is to comfort those who are broken hearted, wounded, and those hurting physically and/or emotionally! Why do we not do it? Maybe we are afraid we will say the wrong things. We don't need to be afraid, sometimes all people need is to know we are there and that they will sense God's care and love through us. Maybe we are too busy, which is a cultural problem in America. Maybe we don't understand another person’s pain, maybe their pain reminds us of our own pain that we do not want to face, or maybe we are simply uncomfortable around them. Maybe we don't understand that we are commanded to comfort those who have hearts that are broken or who have bodies that are wracked with physical pain.
Several years ago I was undergoing counseling for some deep emotional pain, but I stayed busy and ran from the pain every time we would get close to it. I was in a freak accident and suffered a severely broken ankle and was housebound for about a year. I had to sit in both the physical and emotional pain. At the time I did not know very many people at a friendship level, so I spent a lot of time talking to God both about the physical and the emotional pain that I was experiencing. To be honest, I felt like I connected to God at a whole new level! There have been other times that I was hurting emotionally and I was blessed to have had people write me encouragement notes and/or share Bible verses with me and I felt loved – not just by them – but by GOD! Once in a Bible Study I did not even realize how a lesson had affected me and then the teacher had a quiet time followed by a prayer time in which we were to pray aloud about our commitments and I could not bring myself to do it. The quietest student in the class reached over and gently took my hand and her touch gave me the courage to pray out loud. I thanked her later and she said she did not know why she had done it, she just felt that she was supposed to! I know why she did it, God led her to do it to show me He was with me.
We need to ask ourselves if we are fulfilling our responsibility to be near to those in pain? We have been called to restore each other, bear each other's burden, to comfort, to be kind and tenderhearted, and to labor for each other in prayer. How are we doing in that? Or is one of us hurting and feel like God is far away? Do we need to be more transparent and ask for prayer? We also need to remind ourselves not to be terrified of sharing in other people’s pain. We don't need to let feelings of inadequacy deter us, for God can help us know when to take a hand, to sit quietly, cry with someone, or gently remind a hurting person of the truth of God's care.
Prayer: Father, help us to care about those who are hurting physically or emotionally. Help us to see behind the masks that so many of us wear. Father, pain often scares us because it is something we cannot fix or control. Please help us overcome our fears and fill us with your wisdom, your love, and your compassion for the hurting. Please don't let any of us be the reason that someone believes that she was deserted by you when she hurt. Guard our hearts from our tendency to want to “fix” or heal pain that only you can heal. Amen.