The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares. -Henri J.M. Nouwen
In our men’s Bible study on Judges one morning, a verse leaped off the page and has stuck with me since:
“And His soul could no longer endure the misery of Israel.” (Judges 10: 16 NJK)
I never caught that one before. In this chapter, God had chastened the Israelites for their umpteenth apostasy, leaving them defenseless before the Philistines and the Ammonites who now ruled them. They cried out, God heard, and then reached a breaking point. He couldn’t stand their misery any longer.
Never mind that they’d brought it on themselves; never mind this idolatry-bondage- “we’re sorry” cycle had been repeated so often that by this point the average reader of the Old Testament finds it all a little boring. No matter. God’s people were miserable, and their misery became His.
That’s a point I’m trying to absorb, and even cling to: He may allow pain to come to us, but that doesn’t mean He likes it. In fact, there’s good reason to believe He hates it.
“This Hurts Me More than it Does You”
I never did believe my Dad when he said that. Had I been bolder and stupider, I would have said what I was thinking: “Then how come my butt’s stinging while yours seems fine?” Glad I didn’t.
But I believe him now, because the first time I spanked my son I felt like checking myself into a psych ward. I remember actually grabbing him by the collar afterwards and saying, “Don’t ever make me do that again! I can’t take it.” He’ll get around to believing me when he has his own kids.
When an authority chastens you for wrongdoing, or for reasons unknown allows hardship to come to you, it’s easy to assume the worst: “He doesn’t care”, “He’s sadistic”, “He doles out pain then observes me like a lab rat to see how I’ll handle it.”
I’ve said all of that and more about God, because I’ve never been as confident in His compassion as I need to be.
Other parts of Him I think I get pretty well. His justice, for example – I’ll reap what I’ve sown; fair enough. Also His willingness to allow character building trials sent to make me stronger and holier – sure; makes sense. But when the pain hits, whether I brought it on myself, or whether it was allowed for other reasons, I seldom consider the fact He feels it too, and deeply.
The Touchable High Priest
The author of Hebrews said we’re not dealing with a High Priest who’s indifferent to our infirmities (Hebrews 4:15) and there’s a boatload of comfort in that if you give yourself time to dwell on it.
Your Father feels your pain. You and I know that doesn’t mean He’ll accommodate sin on our part to exempt us from discomfort, nor does it make us immune to all kinds of emotional and physical hardships. They happen, but when they do, it can be life changing to consider Him saying, “This matters. Don’t think for a minute what you’re feeling doesn’t affect me, and don’t insult My commitment to you by forgetting how much I care.”
That’s not in the Bible, but it’s a Biblical concept. Remember how often, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus compared earthly parenthood to the Father’s love, making it clear that whatever care we felt for our children was minute next to His care for us.
I know what it does to me to this day when one of my adult sons goes through hard times. I’ve never once just shrugged and said, “Whatever, it’ll build character in him, so that’s fine.” It’s not fine with me when someone I love goes through hard times, and that’s when Jesus comparison hits me hardest: “If you, then, being evil —”
When Jesus Weeps
Twice in the Gospels we see the Lord reduced to tears: when Lazarus died and his sisters mourned (John 11: 1-45) and when He surveyed Jerusalem and knew what would come from His people’s utter rejection of Him. (Luke 19:41) Human pain, whether brought on by sin or by uncontrollable circumstance, got a response from Him.
It still does. So I hope that, whatever problems we’re facing, we can remember He is not only the God who sees and knows, but also the God who feels.
For proof let’s look no further than the Cross. Our salvation is no ATM transaction. It’s a bond brought about by suffering we’ll never understand, sealed in blood we didn’t shed, and brought to our awareness by His Spirit, not ours.
Considering all that, maybe one of the most undeserved fallacies we could hold about Him is that He’s indifferent. Resolute, sure, but never indifferent. So a simple but very worthwhile prayer comes to mind: God grant me a deeper revelation of, and confidence in, Your care.