You can fill in blank. When cancer took my child, when the bomb landed on the school, when I was molested and raped, when my family was murdered, when millions of Jews cried out in the death camps of Hitler.
No question can have a more devastating effect on our faith in a loving God. Hundreds of books have been written trying to answer the question, so there will be no quick answer here. I have already written about how present God has been through my brothers and sisters who have helped and loved Teckla as she has battled breast cancer this last year. God, dwelling in the hearts of other believers, has been near us.
But recently another answer to my question keeps coming. When I ask, “God, where are you”, I have heard, I think, God say, “In Christ on the cross.” I am certain I don’t fully understand what this answer might mean. But let me describe three ways this helps me.
First, I believe God, in Christ on the cross, is there for us. On the cross, the Father and Son suffered for all our sins, for all the terrible things we have done and will do to one another. I say the Father suffered because this last year I suffered beside the bed of my intubated son, Peter, while doctors fought to save his life. On the cross both the Father and Son drew close to us. The Holy Spirit wept.
Jesus hung on the cross for not only our sins but also for the sins of those who hurt us. In the suffering of Jesus there is a promise of healing for the victim and deliverance for wicked. So when I wag a finger at God and ask why He doesn’t do something, I think He points to the cross and says, “Well, I did this.” The gift of His Son on the cross to save us all is something, even if in our suffering it does not seem like enough. On the cross the power of sin was broken. The most wicked can be cleansed and the most broken healed.
Second, on the cross God is with us. In bearing our sins on the cross Jesus became God with us in the most intimate way. Although sinless, He was with us in our sins. We can never say to Jesus, “You just don’t understand my situation.” The cross may reach to heaven, but it is planted in the earth. God came to us. Jesus walked here, died here, arose here. He knows us, our sin, and our pain.
A third way is the mystery of the fellowship of His sufferings mentioned in Philippians 3. I am not certain I understand it, and less certain that I want it. But I think it means that when my suffering is surrendered to God rather than fought against with bitterness or hardness, it becomes redemptive rather than pointless. Where hurt has reigned, healing can abound; where our heart is in ruins, God builds an indestructible temple of love and grace. In the fellowship of his sufferings, my suffering becomes golden. In my helplessness, God empowers me to help others.
I know this does not answer all the “why” questions about suffering. Why did God not intervene? Is it that He doesn’t or can’t, or that in some mysterious way all suffering is His sovereign will? Those questions need books and different books give different answers.
In my suffering, I have learned to look to Christ on the cross. It is where God is both for me and with me. In the fellowship of his suffering, I am not alone and discover I never have been.