Tragedy has tinted our town the last several weeks. As the world emerges from the pandemic, our small community has lost our excellent high school JROTC leader to sudden death and then one of the high school secretaries to sudden brain seizures. A church member’s son is diagnosed with cancer, and my wife’s brother is suffering from crippling sudden onset brain seizures with no precise diagnosis.
As Phillip Yancey poignantly asked: Where is God when it Hurts?
The Bible is clear about the source of suffering. We live in cursed bodies, with cursed psyches, and cursed spirits, on a cursed planet, under a cursed system in a cursed time. Men will commit crimes against one another. Accidents will burn houses down. Even the earth will oppose us and challenge us at every turn until we return to dust.
We should therefore adjust our expectations accordingly. Of course, we may not like the answer. But the question is not whether we like it. Instead, does it make sense of reality as we know it? I believe that it does.
But all of that is abstract. Suffering is very personal stuff.
Nineteen years ago, I accompanied my friend Phil to the spot where his 18-year-old son Joseph had just died in an inexplicable car wreck. My heart wrenched as I watched my friend implode in grief. I spent the next three months so angry with God that I could not speak to him except on a professional basis. How could He let that happen?! Two years later, I buried one of my best friends, the victim of a car hitting his bicycle. Two years after that, I answered the phone late one night to the wails of a grieving friend and shortly after that buried her twenty-year-old son, a drowning victim. Finally, in August of 2010, I buried my 53-year-old brother, dead from a sudden heart attack. There was no explanation for any of these losses that made any sense. I grieved to the bottom of my soul, just as you do in your losses.
Where is God when that kind of stuff happens? Philosophers offer two answers: There is no all-powerful, all-loving God. Or there is an almighty God. He just doesn’t care.
But the Bible offers a third alternative. We can hear it in one of the most overlooked things Jesus ever said, something he wailed aloud from the Cross: “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me!?” (Matthew 27:46).
God is not up there, distant, aloof, impassive while we suffer. He is down here suffering with us. He has taken every single pain, every ounce of tragedy, every shred of injustice, each moment of mindless terror, “rolled it into a ball and eaten it, tasted it, fully digested it, eternally.” God is in Christ, suffering with and reconciling the world to himself.
Where is God when we suffer? He is suffering with us.
The Cross is stunning proof that God cares about our pain. As the universal symbol of Christianity, we are so familiar with it that we forget how violent, how brutal it was. Our word ‘excruciating’ comes from the Latin for crucifixion. Yet, we wear it around the neck like a trophy. In his death, Jesus, God in the flesh, fully identified with our suffering. He did not have to do that. He chose complete identification with suffering humanity.
When tragedy strikes, words on a page or the lips of a friend cannot fill the breach in our souls. Despite all the things he had promised, all the times he predicted the resurrection, Jesus’ disciples dispersed in depression. Their hope, it seemed, was empty.
But that was Friday. Sunday was coming. The world, suffering, life, and death itself were turned on their heads when it came. The Cross tells us that God fully identifies with all the suffering of the world. The resurrection reminds us that one day he will turn suffering on its head.
God, our heavenly father, is not holding us at arm’s length. He is embracing us. He is beside us, holding us up. He is weeping with us. He knows the emptiness of our grief and the hollowness in our hearts. He knows and shares these things with the whole world of suffering but especially with his people. On the Cross, he absorbed it, and through us, he absorbs it still.
Take the Cross out of the center of Christianity, and you remove its core. It becomes just another system of morals and principles. But if you embrace the Cross, you find a God there who is unlike any other, a God who will go to unimaginable lengths to commune with his creatures. He will commune with us to the death on Friday so that we can conquer death with him on Sunday.
See Genesis 3: 17-19; Romans. 8:18, 22-25)
 Peter Kreeft, quoted in ‘The Case for Faith’ by Lee Strobel, pg. 63.
 2 Corinthians 5:18-19.
 1 Peter 5:7; Romans 8:22-26;