April / May - 2020 Vol. 109

two teens walking
Hearing God in Suffering
by Sam Williamson

Most of my high school friends were obsessed with college-prep, extra-curricular activities, and jobs. Except for one friend. Like a lion, he could sniff out a wounded schoolmate from a thousand yards. And like a lamb, he sat with them in their grief.

One day we heard a lecture on handling pain. Much of the class was indifferent, but this one friend listened with fixed attention. My preppy class asked how to deal with a poor score on a college-entry exam; he asked how to cheer a suicidal sibling.

My friend suffered from cerebral palsy. Everyday his infirmity slapped him in the face, and every night throbbing muscles threatened his sleep. He stumbled awkwardly as he walked, his dialog was often incomprehensible, and his body was wracked with pain. (All-the-while his mind remained sharp; he knew what he suffered.)

Classmates overlooked him for team sports; mid-day waiters insulted him by asking me what “he” wanted for lunch;  and the difficulty of his spastic speech meant few people invited him for an evening dinner.

Yet he always sought out others in  in their sorrow. Oswald Chambers once said,
Suffering burns up a lot of shallowness in a person.
We Hate Suffering

We all know a few of our foibles: we are easily offended when corrected, we talk more than we listen, we barely know how to spell “joy” (much less live it), and we are consumed with self-doubts, “If only I had said ‘X’ instead of ‘Y.’”

We wrestle with our anxiety, condescension, and insensitivity. And they pin us to the mat. We chase self-improvement, sure, but mostly to avoid the humiliation of looking stupid, uncaring, and high-maintenance. Failures drive us to avoid sorrow at any cost.

We want healing from suffering; but Scripture says we get healing only through suffering.

God uses sorrows as spiritual chemotherapy, poisoning cancerous cells so that healthy cells can thrive. “He delivers the afflicted by their affliction and opens their ear by adversity” (Job 36:15).

We hate passages like that.

To Live a Dying Life
Jesus was a man of sorrows. To follow Jesus is a walk of sorrows. Through suffering, we meet God. The way of Jesus is the road to Calvary, planting daily our crosses; as little by little the cancerous cells perish, and as little by little his life in us takes root. In our sorrows, we begin to discover true joy.

Each new sunrise screams of brutalities, ethnic cleansing, sexual carnage, heartbreaking divorce, rejection, and loneliness.

What kind of God do we want? A God indifferent to suffering, exempt and untouched? Or a God so moved with compassion at the slaughter of his people that he enters creation to absorb into himself the anguish of a heartbroken world?

The way of Jesus is to live a dying life.

God’s Voice in Our Affliction
Experiences of loneliness and pain leave us feeling barren and empty, joyless and wasted; but it is precisely in times of wounded-ness that God speaks to us:
The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.

 - Edward Shillito
Rather than flee agonies, let’s seek his voice in the heartbreaks of our sorrows:
  • If we are rejected, hear him whisper that he was discarded so we can be cherished;
  • In our loneliness, hear his pledge that he was forgotten so we will be treasured;
  • In the aches of our withering bodies, hear his shout that we are nearly home.
The same sun that hardens clay also softens wax. Which will we be? Will the sufferings of life turn us callous and harsh, or will we let the blood-soaked lashes of Jesus speak to our wounds?

Like my high school friend, let us stumble awkwardly into a world of anguish, anointing the griefs of others with the balm of a wounded God.

Let us live a dying life.


article © Copyright 2020, Beliefs of the Heart, Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

    Hearing God book cover  

Sam Williamson has published numerous articles and has written two books. He has a blog site, www.beliefsoftheheart.com, and can be reached at Sam@BeliefsoftheHeart.com. 

Hearing God in Conversation: How to Recognize His Voice Everywhere, by Samuel C. Williamson, published by Kregel Publications, 2016, available from Amazon                              

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