Most of my high school friends were obsessed with college-prep, extra-curricular activities, and jobs. Except for one friend. Like a lion, he could sniff out a wounded schoolmate from a thousand yards. And like a lamb, he sat with them in their grief.
One day we heard a lecture on handling pain. Much of the class was indifferent, but this one friend listened with fixed attention. My preppy class asked how to deal with a poor score on a college-entry exam; he asked how to cheer a suicidal sibling.
My friend suffered from cerebral palsy. Everyday his infirmity slapped him in the face, and every night throbbing muscles threatened his sleep. His stumbled awkwardly as he walked, his dialog was often incomprehensible, his body was wracked with pain. All-the-while his mind remained sharp.
Classmates overlooked him for team sports; mid-day waiters insulted him by asking me what “he” wanted for lunch; and the difficulty of his spastic speech meant few people invited him for an evening dinner. Yet he always sought out others in in their sorrow.
Oswald Chambers observed that, “Suffering burns up a lot of shallowness in a person.”
We Hate Suffering
We all know a few of our foibles: we are easily offended when corrected, we talk more than we listen, we barely know how to spell “joy” (much less live it), and we are consumed with self-doubts, “If only I had said ‘X’ instead of ‘Y.’”
We wrestle with our anxiety, condescension, and insensitivity. And they pin us to the mat. We chase self-improvement, sure, but mostly to avoid the humiliation of looking stupid, uncaring, and high-maintenance. Failures drive us to avoid sorrow at any cost.
We want healing from suffering; but Scripture says we get healing only throughsuffering.
God uses sorrows as spiritual chemotherapy, poisoning cancerous cells so that healthy cells can thrive. “He delivers the afflicted by their affliction and opens their ear by adversity” (Job 36:15).
We avoid passages like that.
To Live a Dying Life
Jesus was a man of sorrows. To follow Jesus is a walk of sorrows. Through suffering, we meet God. The way of Jesus is the road to Calvary, planting daily our crosses; as little by little the cancerous cells perish, and as little by little his life in us takes root. In our sorrows, we begin to discover true joy.
Each new sunrise screams of brutalities, ethnic cleansing, sexual carnage, heartbreaking divorce, rejection, and loneliness.
What kind of God do we want? A God indifferent to suffering, exempt and untouched? Or a God so moved with compassion at the slaughter of his people that he enters creation to absorb into himself the anguish of a heartbroken world?
The way of Jesus is to live a dying life.
God’s Voice in Our Affliction
Experiences of loneliness and pain leave us feeling barren and empty, joyless and wasted; but it is precisely in times of wounded-ness that God speaks to us:
The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone. (Edward Shillito)
Rather than flee agonies, let’s seek his voice in the heartbreaks of our sorrows:
- If we are rejected, hear him whisper that he was discarded so we can be cherished;
- In our loneliness, hear his pledge that he was forgotten so we will be treasured;
- In the aches of our withering bodies, hear his shout that we are nearly home.
The same sun that hardens clay also softens wax. Which will we be? Will the sufferings of life turn us callous and harsh, or will we let the blood-soaked lashes of Jesus speak to our wounds?
Like my high school friend, let us stumble awkwardly into a world of anguish, anointing the griefs of others with the balm of a wounded God. Let us live a dying life.
Human beings long for nothing more than to hear God. Please consider buying my new book, Hearing God in Conversation: How to Recognize His Voice Everywhere. I believe it will help you hear his voice.
- Learning to recognize the sound of God’s voice
- Hearing God in his silence
- How to Brainstorm with God
- Hearing God in Scripture
- Hearing God for guidance
Pastor Gary Wilkerson (son of David Wilkerson) said:
Sam Williamson has written a remarkable book that teaches both how to hear God’s voice in Scripture, and then to hear his voice in every avenue of life. It’s filled with humor, insight, practical tips, and sound theology. I can’t recommend a better guide than Hearing God in Conversation.