"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 Philip Yancey's book by the same title. In his book Yancey discussed both physical and emotional pain. Physical pain is the pain caused by physical injury and/or physical illness. This type of pain varies in its intensity, ranging from mild discomfort to overwhelming, debilitating waves of pain. Some physical pain, like childbirth, has great benefits associated with it, while other pain seem to bear no blessings with it. Unlike the pain of childbirth that comes in waves and ends after the birth process, those struggling with cancer, losing a limb, or the pain of various chronic illnesses, often don't experience an end to their pain. The most they can hope for is pain management.
It may be hard for those struggling with chronic pain to see pain as a precious gift from God. However, it is. It alerts us to the reality that something is wrong and needs attention. Physical pain can also help us realize where one's body begins and where it ends. For example, we may not be consciously aware of where our thumb ends unless we hit it with a hammer or where our foot ends unless someone steps on it. The nerves signal very clearly that our body space has been breached. This protects us from injury. Without physical pain we can do horrendous damage to our body without even knowing it. Without the discomfort of being cold, we might not put a jacket on. With out the sensation of hunger, we might not eat the nutritious food we need. Without physical pain we would not remove our hand from a hot burner or put on sandals when the sidewalk is too hot to walk on.
Emotional pain is every bit as real as physical pain, but it is experienced in a different ways. We may experience it in the form of loneliness, anxiety, fear, anger, insecurity, broken-heartedness, and sadness. Emotional hurts also come in intensities from a mild uneasiness to overwhelming hurt. Interestingly emotional pain can be so intense it physically hurts. For example, one time a car came around the corner and almost hit our neighbor’s child. I screamed and then doubled over in pain as my stomach cramped in response to the tension I experienced.
Just like physical pain alerts us, emotional pain does as well. It can tell us we need to correct emotionally wounding situations in our lives. It can tell us we need to realch out and build relationships. It can tell us that we need to set some boundaries in the relationships that we do have. Our ability to feel emotional pain is God-given. Without emotional pain we might not be motivated to confront unhealthy or harmful behaviors, might not set boundaries within our work environments, or might not 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 are believers and know this verse, experiencing pain is an opportunity to choose to believe and wrestle with this verse, moving its truth from our heads to our hearts. God is very near to the broken hearted. Does that mean we will always automatically "feel" His presence? Nope. Men like David, Isaiah, and Jeremiah all openly vocalized their questions about where God was in their difficult circumstances. They said at times they felt deserted. While our emotions are real, they are not always based on truth. If we "feel" or "think" God is far away when we hurt, we need to remember it is not the truth. It is a lie the enemy wants us to believe so we will pull away from God. When I am in either emotional or physical pain and feel abandoned, I have found finding God in the midst of it comes from being honest with God about my pain, my feelings, my doubts, and the lies that I struggle with. The more I pray, the more I begin to experience His presence in the pain.
Another question we might find ourselves struggling with is, "Does God care that I hurt?" Today’s verse tells us He does!. Christ, Himself, experienced pain. He got hungry. He got cold. He got tired. He was beaten, whipped, and had hair plucked out from his beard. , and was crucified which is an extremely painful way to die. He felt emotional pain. He experienced. loneliness. He felt the sting of disappointment. He fest the knife like pain of betrayal. He felt the frustration of false accusations. He felt the grief of being so misunderstood. The Bible says Christ lived and suffered so we could know we have a high priest who understands the feelings of our infirmities. Wow, that needs to sink into our hearts. As we live we will suffer in the same ways He did because we live in such a broken world. His suffering--it gives us a clear picture of the love Christ had for us as He lay down His life for our sin. He chose to suffer to demonstrate to us His great love.
Why would a great God permit pain? There are several reasons He might. First, trials can mature us and He is fully committed to completing the work He began in us and physical and emotional pain may be a part of the tools He uses to weed out sin, doubt, and false core beliefs. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 tells us pain allows us to experience the comfort of God so we might in turn comfort others. I think these verses address our original question, "Where is God when it hurts?" He is in the church.
A part of our calling as believers is to comfort the broken hearted, whether their pain be physical or emotional. Why do we sometimes not do it? Sometimes it is because we are afraid we will say the wrong thing. We do not need to be afraid, all a hurting person needs to know is that we are there with them and willing to listen to their concerns and their questions without judgement. Through us they will sense God's care and love. Maybe there are times we are too busy. Maybe we don't understand another's pain. Maybe their pain reminds us of our own pain we do not want to face. Or, maybe we are simply uncomfortable in the presence of deep pain we can't fix. All we are called to do is comfort. The rest is up to God.
Several years ago I was undergoing counseling for deep emotional pain, but I stayed too busy to feel 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 a year. I had to sit in both the physical and emotional pain for about a year. At the time I didn't know many people at a friendship level, so I spent a lot of time alone, talking to God both about the physical and the emotional pain I was experiencing. I was so bless to connect to God at a whole new level and to feet His love continually present with me! There have also been other times when I was hurting emotionally and I was surrounded by people who comforted me and wrote me encouragement notes and I also 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. When the teacher followed the lesson with a prayer time in which we were to pray aloud about our commitments and changes we wanted to make I could not bring myself to do it. The quietest gal 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 didn't know why she had done it, only that she felt in her spirit 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 all of that? If one of us is hurting and feeling like God is far away, where are the rest of us? Do we need to be more transparent about our own pain to encourage another to share theirs? Do we need to be better listeners to discern someone's pain? We can remind ourselves to find the courage in Christ to share in others' pain. We don't need to let feelings of inadequacy deter us, for God ia able and He can help us know when to take a hand, when to sit quietly, when to cry with someone, or when to gently remind a hurting person of the truth of God's presence and care in the midst of their pain.
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.