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Where is God in the Midst of Our Suffering?

I was teaching senior Bible classes when Covid-19 closed school in March 2020. Once we realized returning to school wasn’t an option, the gravity of the situation hit hard. Many students regretted that they hadn’t made more of the time they had in person. Some Zoom classes were more like therapy sessions, all of us grieving over what could not be. A few seniors asked if the suffering they experienced from Covid-19 and missing out on their senior year was a punishment from God. 

Wednesday’s section of this week’s Adult Bible Study Guide pointed out that the church is supposed to help defend God’s character of love in the great controversy. The lesson ended with a question: “Discuss: what role does the church have in cooperating with Christ in proving Satan’s charges wrong?” That’s a good question. I would change the question slightly to “what role should the church have . . .?” 

In Desire of Ages, Ellen White writes something powerful  in her chapter about Lazarus. When it came time to roll away Lazarus’ tomb, Christ did not have angels move it away because it had to be taken away by human hands. She writes, “Thus Christ would show that humanity is to cooperate with divinity. What human power can do divine power is not summoned to do” (Desire of Ages pg. 535, emphasis added). Allow that sentence to sink in. “What human power can do divine power is not summed to do.” 

Jesus tells us to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven in The Lord’s Prayer. This is evidence that God’s will is not being done on earth. If it was, why would Jesus ask us to pray for it? Therefore, sometimes things happen that are not the will of God. We could say that we are not responsible for the suffering in this world, and if there was a God, he should take care of it. Saying that wastes time on semantics. If someone believes there is no God, then we have to take care of each other because no one else is coming. If there is a God and we are His hands and feet, we must take care of each other because it is our duty. Either way, when there is suffering in this world, we are the ones who should help.

The power in entering each other’s suffering became real when my husband lost his job unexpectedly. We lived in a state of shock. At the time, we lived and worked in an Adventist community. When he lost his job, some shunned us or ignored us, leaving us feeling confused and abandoned. But, there were others who rushed to our side, entering our suffering. They were the ones who showed us God’s love, willing to get their hands messy, love us in our state of grief, and brought the presence of God into our darkness. What if our churches were known for showing up in the mess rather than merely talking about ways to fix it?

Suffering is inevitable in this world. Bringing me back to my senior class discussion during the Covid-19 lockdown. Is the suffering in this world a sign that God is punishing us? Where is God when we are suffering? We continued to have a conversation about the world we live in and the repercussions of other’s choices. All those things have a ripple effect that bring both beauty and pain. God does not cause our suffering. Pain is the inevitable result of living on earth and living in the consequences of other people’s choices isn’t fair. It’s also not the will of God. As The Lord’s Prayer says, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

We were created to be a part of bringing about that kingdom, including entering in the suffering of others. God is right there in the midst of our suffering, as we should be too.

About the author

Krystalynn Westbrook-Martin is the former vice principal for spiritual life at Auburn Adventist Academy. She has served as a minister, teacher, and administrator in the Seventh-day Adventist Church for over two decades. She is currently completing a PhD in Transformative Social Change, with an emphasis in Peace and Justice Studies. More from Krystalynn Westbrook-Martin.
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