It seems that nothing calls into question God’s existence and love for us like pain and suffering. Like most people, I too have struggled with why God lets us endure pain and suffering. Excruciating pain and suffering can be debilitating, crippling the most healthy and fittest of us all. Or to watch a loved one endure the agony of cancer treatments, or a spouse trying to cope with depression, or the death of a child “Where are you, God,” seems to be all we can cry out with in our pain and sorrow. A few years ago, I was dealing with sever back pain for close to nine months. At first my prayer was to be cured but over time it changed to praying for strength to endure it. It was just so hard to understand why God, who loved me so much, would not just simply take my pain away. At mid-point in those nine months, I remember talking to a friend of mine about what God might be trying to teach me with this pain. She took it that I was saying, “Why did God send me this pain,” but I wasn’t. After so long, my unanswered prayers to be cured of my pain shifted to what might God be saying to me in my pain. What might God be trying to teach me about human suffering, to perhaps uncover a special experience of God’s love for me in my painful human condition.
When we read about the life, passion, and death of Jesus, we so often forget that God, in Jesus, took on our same human condition, with all its aches, pains, loneliness, hurt, fear, and suffering, that each of us experience. But God didn’t change Jesus’ human condition just so he could feel better and not endure the cross. Why then would it be any different for me or for you? It’s not for lack of God’s love that we are feeling pain and suffering. It is the direct result of God’s love that we are even able to feel pain and suffering, to be human and alive at all. It is pure gift that we were even thought of by a loving and life-giving God. It was at that moment, in the midst of pain and suffering, that I was able to ask for and receive God’s strength to endure.
Of course, this is all so much easier to see and say when my excruciating back pain is gone and things are looking and feeling so much brighter. But, as a result of that painful experience, I do feel somehow different, maybe resilient, broader, more depth, certainly more familiar with pain and suffering. And to know that I actually endured it, lived through it, and grew richer and deeper in love with God. It’s at that point I was touched by the truth; “Nothing can separate us from God’s love.”