I was discussing the word “disability” with a friend of mine and realized how easy it is for that word to sound like “broken.” I asked him, “Does God break people on purpose?” While our conversation veered away to other topics, the question has stuck with me. It’s a heavy question, one I could not avoid thinking deeply about.
About a year and a half ago a friend of mine had a perfectly normal first pregnancy followed by a perfectly normal birth. She held her beautiful baby girl, Kennedy, and started making phone calls to tell everyone that she had arrived. Everything was perfect, but then everything went horribly wrong. Kennedy lived for 45 minutes. There are probably medical reasons why, but none of them are good enough. God could have spared Kennedy and He didn’t.
We Live in a Broken World
Whether you think of it as God causing suffering or God allowing suffering to happen, the fact remains that we live in a broken world. And terrible, awful things happen to the people God loves. One of the hardest things to deal with in times of tragedy is balancing the idea of a God who loves us so much that He sacrificed His Son to save us, with the reality that not everyone gets healed on earth.
I know all of the correct answers: “He uses our suffering for His glory,” “it’s so that others will come to know God,” “God has a bigger plan,” or the truly horrific, “they’re better off in heaven.” None of these answers are enough. I think God does work in our suffering, and He does use our suffering, but I don’t think that’s WHY we suffer.
We forget that the world is not the way it was supposed to be. When sin entered the world in the Garden of Eden, everything was broken, and that includes us as well. I don’t think suffering is a tool created by God to do great things. I think it is an extension of sin, another branch of the evil that entered the world. God doesn’t break people because He can use that pain. People are broken because sin exists. Thankfully, He works in the midst of suffering, even though it wasn't part of His original plan.
There are much grander minds than mine to delve into God’s motivations and the state of the world. I have to stick to what I know. I know God loves me. He loves me in ways too great for me to understand. I know this because He said so and went so far out of His way to save me. He reaches down into every detail of my life because He cares about me immensely.
Our Suffering Does Not Make God Greater
God is already the greatest of all, Lord of Lords and King of Kings. He doesn’t need to borrow glitter from me. He works in my suffering and He is with me when I suffer, but I do not believe He breaks people because it’s great marketing for heaven. Where is the mercy in that?
My niece Corrina is deaf. God could have fixed that, but He chose not too. He did provide surgeons and the amazing science of cochlear implants to give Corrina the chance to learn to hear and speak and sing. I am incredibly grateful for that, but Corrina is still deaf. Every time she takes her processors off — for bed, in the bath, or at the park where the static from the slides is too much for the delicate equipment — she is plunged back into her silent world. She will always be deaf, always be different.
Did God break Corrina? I don’t think so. I believe that God knitted her together. I believe that He knew, long before we did, that she would be born this way and He gifted her with the tenacious spirit needed to endure the therapy. He gifted her parents with the strength and patience to walk with her. It’s tempting to compare suffering, to say that one road is harder to walk than another. That’s probably true, but no road of suffering is easy. Mercifully and miraculously, God does walk each and every road with us.
Not at His hand, but in His arms
Some are healed, some are saved, some are lost, and others are irretrievably broken. But I don’t think we break at the hands of God; I think we break in the arms of God. He is with us in our suffering; He counts our tears. He gives us hope and some days He is the only way we can keep breathing.
British poet John Milton wrote a sonnet I have always loved called “On His Blindness.” Towards the end he poem he writes:
God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.
God does not need to break me to make Himself better known or more glorious. As the poet wrote, “his state is kingly.” Suffering is not a marketing plan or a cruel joke. Suffering came into the world on the back of sin. Humans are fragile; we break. But thank God that He is there to put us back together, whether it’s in this life or the next.
Journey with Others
Many years ago the music pastor at my church gave the sermon that has stayed with me more than any other. He was speaking about worship and praise and all of the things that it does, and then he said this: “If you are heart broken today, if you cannot sing, don’t stay home. Come to church and just sit quietly. Let me sing for you.”
If that’s where you are today I invite you to talk to one of our email mentors. Let us sing for you. Whether you have a prayer request to share, need someone to listen, or are looking for resources to help — whatever your situation — we would love to help.
“For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” Psalm 22:24