Does that statement sound familiar? Maybe you haven’t gone so far as to voice your concerns to that degree, but deep down, when you ponder suffering you are also afraid that God might choose you to be the one to bear the stamp of suffering. And if you were truly honest with yourself, you really don’t want to be that example for everyone else.
I mean, God is a loving God isn’t he? He is the very embodiment of love. How could he truly expect his child to endure lifelong suffering or terrible heartache? And when you do, how do you respond to your preconceived idea about his loving, wonderful plan for your life?
It is a term that gets thrown around quite frequently. God is love. But what does that mean? Does it mean he always gives us what we want? Does it mean he is non-judgmental? Does it mean he is a happy, father figure in the sky waiting to pour out blessing on us?
God’s Love is a Mysterious Love
To believe that God is love means we must learn to trust his heart, as Spurgeon said. We can all recall times where we have absolutely no idea what he is up to, or why is ordering our life a particular way. And I have good news for you, Christian. If you are in Christ, God’s heart is always favorable towards you (Romans 8:1). He always acts on your behalf in view of his love for you. He will never give you anything that is not sovereignly designed for your good and ultimate glory (Genesis 50:20, Romans 8:28). Like every good father, he knows our deepest need—even if we cannot see it. He is ready and able to meet that need, even if it means taking us through devastating trials and suffering. It is all from his loving hand. Sometimes it is a great mystery to us, but our suffering is never an unknown to him.
God’s Love is a Better Love
Jesus knew our tendency to doubt God’s love for us, and so he used the best analogy possible for helping us see the depth of God’s care (Matthew 6:25-34). All we have to do is look at earthly fathers and their care for their children. A good father always provides, always cares, and always gives his child everything she needs. He knows his child better than she knows herself. And Jesus says something profound, “God’s love is better than that.” God is infinitely more wise, loving, and willing to provide for those who are his. Every single thing we receive is because he knows we need it, and he knows that something much better is waiting for us.
God’s Love is a Forward Looking Love
Because we are often in the dark about God’s purpose for our suffering, we are tempted to draw our conclusions about him from what our eyes can see. The reality is that in suffering our eyes are usually blurred with tears and pain. We must always go back to his character and his past promises as the basis for our hope in the midst of this suffering. If we would not make conclusions about those we hold dear in the deepest moments of suffering, we must not make conclusions about our God either.
Two and a half years ago I suffered a miscarriage. In the months following I was gripped with fear that something would happen to my husband. There were a variety of things that contributed to this fear, but the greatest one was the fact that I felt like God could not be trusted with those I loved. If he took my baby, what would stop him from taking my husband, too? I was using my circumstances as a test for his goodness, rather than trusting that he had a good, long-term purpose for all of the pain. Fundamentally, I did not believe that he was for me. Yes, he can take my husband and he will have done me no wrong. But he is also not in the business of taking every good thing from us just because he can. I needed to believe that his love for me ran much deeper than my earthly pleasure. His love, evidenced in my suffering, had eternal purposes (1 Peter 1:6-9, 5:10).
When we face suffering and trials we are tempted to think that this moment is all there is. But it’s not, and God knows that. He knows the thousands of details working behind the scene of our suffering that are preparing us for glory. He has the eternal perspective in view, which is why we can trust him.
And isn’t that so much better than believing in a love that only gives us what we want in the moment? God will have no spoiled children. How many of us can recount with thankfulness the times we asked God for relief, or for something specific, only to find out later that if the prayer had been answered our life would be much more miserable now? I know I have.
Suffering reminds us that God is God and we are not. But it also reminds us that this God is a God who takes care of his children every step of the way. It reminds us that God will never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). It reminds us that everything we ever needed is found in him. It reminds us that one day our weak faith will be made sight, and then we will know the meaning of it all. And in that day, when all tears are wiped from our faces, we will praise him for his love, wisdom, and salvation forever.