Hope When We Hurt

One of the flaws of modern church, modern worship, and much modern writing is that we have no category for pain. We will acknowledge, from a distance, that sometimes people hurt. But, in the main, when we think of the Christian life, it is often presented as a happy, successful, progressively better experience. As the sappy old hymn declares, Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before.”

But, is every day better than the last? Do we progress from happy to happy, from better to better, with seldom a bump in the road? This is not the real experience of many a Christian. So what do we do?

The book of Lamentations is one of those books we seldom see quoted. It is dark and tear-filled. Jeremiah the prophet has witnessed the destruction of the city of Jerusalem. He has wept over the brutality of the Babylonians as they came in and crushed Judah. And, in truth, there is little to offer comfort at present. The nation will be captive for 70 years, and nothing Jeremiah will do will change that.

Look at what Jeremiah writes, seeing both his sorrow and his hope.

Lamentations 3:19-26

19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.

Jeremiah’s soul is bowed down. He hurts. He is grieving deeply. His heart is pumping the bitterest poison into his soul. What does he do? Does he pretend it is not there? Nope. Does he pretend every little thing is going to be just fine? Nope. Does he pretend that harshness and evil have not overtaken the land? Nope.

But Jeremiah finds hope in one truth: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

Life hurts. God is still good. Our world can crumble. God is faithful. Our lives may fall apart. God will never leave us or forsake us. We may fail. God has new mercies.

Great is thy faithfulness only works when we see it in the light of our own dark, hurtful, overwhelmed world. Life hurts us deeply. Life pumps poison into our hearts from time to time. God is faithful. God cares. God knows.

In truth, in the Son of God, we know that he has experienced this. Jesus lived perfectly, and suffered greatly. He was mocked, ridiculed, persecuted, beaten, betrayed, and condemned. Jesus truly received in justice. And he knew his Father was still faithful. Even as he breathed his last, the Savior could say, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”

You might take a moment to argue that this is not fair. Jesus knew that he would die and then rise again. And I would say to you, “Exactly!” If you are a believer, so will you. Your hope for comfort comes in two places. The mercies of the Lord and the sustaining power of his Spirit are with us now, renewed day by day. And we too will die and rise again in Christ. We too have eternal hope of eternal joy. Jeremiah says it is good for us to hope in and wait in the salvation of the Lord. It will come, in this life or the next. And that is our hope. We do not gain anything by pretending pain is not real. But we gain much by realizing that God is good, that God’s glory is eternal, that resurrection is our hope, and that we will see glory because of God’s great faithfulness.

Counsel on Comfort: No Lies for God

As Job found himself confronted by men who ought to be comforting him in his time of pain, his frustration grew. The three supposed friends of Job came to him with settled explanations for why God was allowing Job’s calamity. In general, their answers to Job were logical—you must have sinned, God must want you to repent. The problem is that their reasons were wrong. They did not know what the Lord was doing. And they could not simply say to Job that they did not know.

Job 13:4-7

4 As for you, you whitewash with lies;
worthless physicians are you all.
5 Oh that you would keep silent,
and it would be your wisdom!
6 Hear now my argument
and listen to the pleadings of my lips.
7 Will you speak falsely for God
and speak deceitfully for him?

Job asks a question of these men that caught my attention: “Will you speak falsely for God?” What a horrible thing to consider. Why would anyone speak falsely for God?

But a little consideration helps me see that this is a very real temptation. When we find a situation we do not like, how do we often speak? When we run into a believer who is suffering, what are some of the foolish things that come out of our mouths? Often we think we have something to say that will both comfort the person in pain while showing them that God has nothing to do with the situation. And if we say something like that, we speak falsely, even as we attempt to speak for God.

Let us be very careful with hurting friends. On the one hand, we do not wish to be the blunt, useless, unhelpful counselors that were Job’s friends. We need to weep with those who weep. Sometimes, often times, our best move will be to shut our mouths, put an arm around a friend’s shoulder, and just let them know we are there with them. Quite often it would be better for us not to try to explain to somebody our rationale for what they are going through.

I’ve been at many funerals. I’ve been with many families in hospital rooms. I’ve stood in the line of family members having people walk past us to share their condolences. Let me say to you with all honesty that the least helpful people in all of those lines were the people who thought they had something wise to say. The best words I heard were often, “I’m so sorry,” or even one brave soul, at my dad’s funeral, who simply hugged me and said, “This sucks.”

When we do speak, we need to offer hope in the goodness of God. We need to help people know that the loving and powerful God who made them has not forgotten them. We need to say things that let people know that we care and we are not abandoning them. WE need to let people know that it makes sense why they would hurt in their situation, even if we do not have a perfect explanation for why it is all happening or why now.

But we also need to avoid the dangerous lies of men who let go of true, biblical doctrine in the face of pain. We do not help by speaking falsely of God. WE do not help by telling somebody that God is somehow not in control of bad situations, only of good ones. No, that is empty comfort and speaking falsely for God. We must not deny divine providence when our Shepherd walks us through the valley of the shadow.

Perhaps we would do better being honest with the hurting. We do not know the ways and plans of the Lord. We do not know why some of us go through deep pains. And we will sorrow with the hurting, even as we declare their situation to be genuinely evil, genuinely hurtful, truly something that stinks. At the same time, if we are going to speak honestly, we cannot deny the truth that God is in control, God is still over all, and God is still good. Even when we do not understand his ways because he is greater than us in an infinite capacity, God’s ways are still right and his actions are still good. There is no comfort in pretending that God has lost control, that God was caught unaware, or that God’s hands are tied. There is great comfort in knowing that God is going to do eternal good, even when our lives hurt in the here and now.