God is love.
We love that saying. We love thinking about love and our idolatry of our own personal definition of love often bleeds onto our thoughts of God, often shaping Him into our image of what we think love is. We love the thought of a God who helps, who heals, who gives us what we want and always does what we think is best. We like that God. We think we love that God. And yes, God does heal and give and do all of the warm, fuzzy things we can think of. But this God is more complex than the genie in the sky we make Him out to be.
This God takes. He takes life, He takes away things we think to be good, He takes away things we want and swear we need. This God disciplines. He brings hurt, He allows chaos, He causes destruction if He sees fit. This God ends things we wish never ended. He hurts us, lowers us, presses us, squeezes us. His method of sanctification often comes in the form of suffering. He cares more about our holiness than our comfort.
The reality is that God is both/and. He brings suffering and healing. He gives and He takes. He raises up and lowers down. In His sovereignty, He is in complete control of all things and is working all things according to His plan. This is His world; and He will do with it what He wants.
I struggle with this reality. I struggle with this reality that the same God who allows hurt and suffering is the same God who I must run to for comfort and healing. A lot of us don’t like that idea, either. It is why we try to make sense of bad things in this world without God. We say “God is nowhere in this”; but in fact He is. He allowed it, caused it, and is using it for His plan. We try our best to separate God from anything that is hurtful because how can we trust a God who heals what He hurts? If this was any other person or being, we would call that person psychotic and stay as far away from them as possible.
But this isn’t any other person; this is the God of the universe. This God has ways that aren’t our ways and thoughts that aren’t our thoughts. He is eternal and outside of time, meaning He sees the beginning and the end as the present. He knows how it all ends because He is the one who wrote the ending.
Now, we might be able to accept this big God has big plans and does what He wants. But how do we struggle with this idea and not land on the side of thinking God this cosmic bully who does what He wants with disregard for our feelings? The Psalms speak in multiple places about God being the one who raised up the writer after bringing him down in the first place. Psalms 71: 19-21 is a great example:
Your righteousness, O God,
reaches the high heavens.
You who have done great things,
O God, who is like you?
20 You who have made me see many troubles and calamities
will revive me again;
from the depths of the earth
you will bring me up again.
21 You will increase my greatness
and comfort me again.
The Psalmist here starts this section by recognizing God as righteous and being the only One like Him. He acknowledges that God has done great things in his life. Right after this acknowledgement, He boldly admits that God is also the one who has made him see “many troubles and calamities”, but ends the sentence knowing that God will see him through these. The writer describes being so low as being in the depths of the earth, but even here there is a sure hope that God will bring him out. And not only bring him out but comfort him also.
The Psalmist was able to acknowledge that God was both the one who caused him to be low and the one who would both bring him out of his lowliness and comfort him from his experience. It was because the Psalmist remembered the good deeds of God (vs. 17) that he was able to see through — not ignore — his hurt and see the God who was fully involved in His life, from the start of the trial to the end of it.
I run from God often. I find it hard to trust a God who seems to hurt with one hand and heal with the other. It is confusing sometimes to look at God and know not only could He have prevented my suffering but that He is the cause of it. And that He expects me to come to Him to be comforted and healed. How can I trust Him when I know He will allow me to be hurt? What good deeds can I look back to and see that He will bring me through the very trial He led me too?
The answer is the gospel. God sent His only and beloved Son, Jesus, to save us from the condition we put ourselves in. As humans made in the image of God, we were created with souls that are filled only by connection to God. When Adam and Eve sinned, our connection was severed. Our spiritual umbilical cord was cut and we died. And our death was an offense to God and we therefore became His enemies, lusting and longing for things that He did not create us for, attempting to replace Him every chance we got. We were destined for an eternity away from Him and from all the glory His presence brings and our souls crave. But God did not leave us this way. He knew that sin required death because sin causes death. A sacrifice was needed to repay the debt that sin collected. So instead of rightfully giving us to our death, He gave His Son. Jesus the Christ wrapped His God the Son glory in flesh and dwelt in our brokenness. He lived among the spiritually and physically diseased and had compassion on them. He was perfectly obedient to the Father and died in our place, taking the sins of those who believe in Him to the grave with Him. Our sin stayed there, but our Savior didn’t. By the power of God the Spirit He rose from the grave and ascended to Heaven to take His rightful place beside the Father. This God-man, Jesus, is now presently waiting to be sent back to us to reclaim what is and who are His.
That is the good deed I am called to look to.
I am not called to make excuses for God. I am not called to relieve the tension of Him being both the One who hurts and heals, who cuts and calms. I do not ignore the fact that He does indeed allow and cause suffering. But although He has not fully explained why He is both, He has given us plenty to reason to trust His plan. He has done the greatest thing that was ever needed to be done: He gave us access to the Father and joined us with Him so that we will inherit with Him. The greatest need of all humans is not a comfortable, suffering-free life in a temporary world that will one day not exist in the way we see it now. Our greatest need is the reconciliation of our severed relationship with the God who created us out of the overflow of love in Himself. It is for this reason that Paul can say the worst days we have here are “momentary and light afflictions” when we compare them to the glory to come for those who believe in Jesus for salvation.
Our God hurts. Our God heals. Our God causes it and comforts from it. And our God saves.