God in Suffering
How to Live a Dying Life
by Sam Williamson
I had a high
school friend whose life overflowed with
compassion. The rest of us were obsessed with
college-prep, extra-curricular activities, and
jobs. But he, like a lion, 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.
Most of the class was indifferent—bored
even—but my friend listened quietly with fixed
attention. My preppy class asked how to deal
with a poor score on a college-entry exam; my
friend wondered how he could cheer a suicidal
My friend suffered from cerebral palsy.
Everyday his infirmity slapped him in the
face, and every night throbbing muscles
threatened his sleep.
His walk was awkward, his dialog at times
incomprehensible, his body wracked with pain;
while his mind remained sharp. But mid-day
waiters asked me what “he” wanted for lunch;
classmates overlooked him for team sports; and
the difficulty of his spastic speech meant few
people invited him for an evening dinner. Yet
he always sought out others in sorrow.
Oswald Chambers observed that, “Suffering
burns up a lot of shallowness in a person.”
Why do we resent
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 past
conversations consume us: “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 mostly to avoid the
humiliation of looking stupid, uncaring, and
high-maintenance. Failures drive us to avoid
more sorrow at any cost.
We want healing from suffering; but
Scripture says we get healing only through
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 avoid passages like that.
To live a dying
Jesus is called a man of sorrows, and to
follow him is a walk of sorrows. Through them,
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.
The way of Jesus is to live a dying life.
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?
God’s voice in
Our 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.
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
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.
© Copyright 2016, Beliefs
the Heart, Ltd. All rights reserved.
Williamson grew up in Detroit, Michigan,
USA. He is the son of a Presbyterian pastor
and grandson of
missionaries to China. He moved to Ann
Arbor, Michigan in 1975. He worked in London
England from 1979 to 1982, helping to
a member community of the Sword of the
Spirit. After about twenty-five years as an
executive at a software company in Ann Arbor
he sensed God call him to something new. He
left the software company in 2008 and now
speaks at men’s retreats, churches, and
campus outreaches. His is married to Carla
Williamson and they have four grown children
and a grandson. He has a blog site, www.beliefsoftheheart.com,
and can be reached at