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The Suffering God

What is suffering?

Suffering, at its core, is the experience of pain in some form. Our bodies suffer from injuries, diseases, and aging, and our souls from loss and hurt. Simple to explain yet hard to understand, suffering is an undeniable part of life.

Does God Suffer?

Short answer: yes. Scripture repeatedly portrays God as being pained by the actions of man, from Genesis 6:6 “The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart,” to Judges 10:16 “So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord; and He could bear the misery of Israel no longer,” and Isaiah 42:14 “I have kept silent for a long time, I have kept still and restrained Myself. Now like a woman in labor I will groan, I will both gasp and pant” (NASB).
Mankind’s refusal of God’s pure love hurts Him because it denies His longing for restored relationship (as shown in the Book of Hosea).

How Does God Suffer?

In Jeremiah 2:5, the Lord describes His feelings after Israel has forsaken Him:
Thus says the Lord,
“What injustice did your fathers find in Me,
That they went far from Me
And walked after emptiness and became empty?”

In other words, “Why have you forsaken me?” as Christ echoes from the cross over 500 years later.
This question reveals a desire in God for the justification of Israel’s choice, that same feeling we have when a boyfriend or girlfriend dumps us: what did I do wrong?

God later asks how Israel’s choice might be beneficial down the road: what can happen that makes this worth it?
“Has a nation changed gods
When they were not gods?
But My people have changed their glory
For that which does not profit.” Jeremiah 2:11

Just as we try to imagine what good can come of our suffering, God looked down the road and saw no benefit for His beloved. God concludes that His people have made a poor trade, exchanging their greatest joy for “that which does not profit.” They will gain nothing for their unjustified betrayal of His love.

Why Does It Matter?

Suffering often leads to one question: Why?
When we ask “why,” we mean one or both of two things: What past action justifies my circumstances? And what good may come out of this suffering to justify it?
The incredible thing: God is asking the same questions.

All the way back to the root of sin and man’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden, God’s question remains valid. What reason did man have for rebelling against God? When God asks what He has done wrong to warrant Israel’s rebellion, He is asking a question that cannot be answered: there is no true, logical reason for rebellion against God.

Many say that Adam and Eve wanted to be like God, or that they believed He was withholding something from them. And those are good guesses at Adam and Eve’s thoughts, but they aren’t reasons.

When we ask for a reason, we want a logical, rational basis for some action or event. When a friend says he slept all day because he stayed up late, we have the reason why he needed rest. If he says he was tired, we have only the symptom that led to the sickness. While explanations abound for man’s rebellion, God gave us no just cause for our distrust: our sin was, in essence, irrational.

Since there is no justification for the rebellion of man against God, God’s desire to understand why He suffers goes unmet.

God and man are in the same boat: neither are given reasons for their suffering. This means that God understands our suffering, not on a merely intellectual basis, but as one brokenhearted lover to another.

How can we demand a rationale from God for our pain when He has no reasons for His? In other words, when God asks us to endure suffering we cannot understand, He is asking no more of us than what He does Himself.

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