Explaining where God is when we suffer, when there are no words

No 7 Quick Takes Friday this week. Blessed Good Friday to you all!

I don’t know whether I’m just extra sensitive right now or whether a whole lot of people are having a really bad 2013, but it seems that I’ve come across an unusual number of stories of great suffering lately. From friends, from blogs I follow, and from the media, I have heard stories that leave me stunned with sympathetic grief, wondering how the people involved could possibly survive such a cross.

Naturally, I often wonder where God is in all of this. I mean, I’ve read some interesting books that do a good job of talking about how and why a loving God could allow evil in the world that he created (this one probably being the best of the lot), and I can sometimes do an okay job of explaining it from a coldly theoretical perspective. But then I hear stories where the victims of evil have names and faces. I see suffering befall mothers just like me, children who are so similar to my own, sometimes even people I know. And then all my words are immediately rendered impotent.

What to do in these situations? Where can we turn when eloquent theories fall flat against raw human agony? How can we ponder God’s role in it all without pulling away from him in woundedness and fear? For me, there is only one source of comfort in moments like this:

The crucifix.

When we rail against God for human pain, too often we’re picturing a distant God who sits aloof in his throne upon the clouds. But to see the crucifix is to see the God who allows suffering, but does not exempt himself from it. To ponder the crucifix is to ponder the fact that that man, naked in bleeding on the cross, is the incarnate form of the One who created each molecule on each star and planet in all the billions of galaxies in the universe. To gaze at a crucifix is to learn the story of the creatures who introduced misery into their world through their own disobedience, which they chose through their own free will, and then to hear the tale of the Creator who did not abandon them to wallow in the mess they had made for themselves, but who jumped down into it with them instead. It is to behold a God who used his own pain to transform suffering into a love-generating act, opening the door for his children to be reunited with him in an eternity of peace.

Each time I am tempted to scream, Where is our God when we suffer?!, the crucifix provides its own, wordless response: He is right here, suffering with us.


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  1. says

    P.S. Offering my “sufferings” tomorrow for your safety and that sweet baby if yours within…especially as the day approaches!

  2. says

    Yes. This is exactly it. I just recently posted what Fulton Sheen said on Good Friday, 1940, and you are right that it is all about the Crucifix.

  3. says

    The Church’s teachings on redemptive suffering saved my life and my marriage. Having a corpus on the cross is a powerful reminder!

    A blessed Triduum to you guys.

  4. says

    Thanks for this…what a moving and true post. I reached an important stage in my spiritual life (and I’m still very much a spiritual baby) when I realized that suffering is just part of life…that we were never promised an “easy” life that that the suffering we experience in this earthly life should make us yearn for heaven even more.

    I think our modern lifestyle and conveniences had made us forget what suffering really is…we don’t have to suffer the heat because we have a/c. We don’t have to suffer the cold, because we have heat. We don’t have to suffer hunger because there is plenty of food and plenty of help to get food for those who need it. We don’t have to suffer a lot of physical pain, because we have drugs to take that away.

    In many ways I think the modern person is very “weak” when it comes to suffering because we don’t experience it on a daily basis, the way people did in times past…which means that when we do experience suffering and pain..we forget to turn to Christ and just rail and cry and scream against it (well, I do that, anyway).

    Thanks for the reminder that Christ is suffering right along with us.

  5. says

    Yes, He is….right here with us….every step, every day.
    Last year, our church had a Lenten retreat and we were blessed with Father Richard Leonard (the cousin of our Emeritus priest) to speak. He was amazing. His theme (and book) were, “Where in the Hell is God?”. So powerful.
    Blessed Easter!

  6. says

    I just read this yesterday from Fulton Sheen’s Way of the Cross: (I’m reciting this from memory, as the book belonged to the chapel)”The cross is a sign of contradiction; of life and of death. The horizontal bar lying flat represents death (lying down) and the vertical bar represents life (standing up.) Christ broke that contradiction of the cross, by changing it from the cross to the crucifix.”

    A further thought…Christ Himself died on the vertical bar–the bar that represents life, even though He was dead. And by His death, He won us true life forever. An amazing contradiction indeed!

    On a side note, I love your refection–so true it is. I told my kids yesterday that we would be going to Good Friday Mass today (it’s our first year attempting this with 5 kids) and the minute I said this, there was a lot of complaining about how long Mass would be. I told them that every time they complained I would give them the crucifix to complain to–and if they found that their complaints surpassed Jesus’s suffering, then maybe they DO have something to complain about. But not likely. :-)

    • Becky says

      (from a different Becky)
      I am just curious. What happened when you got to church and found out that there is no Good Friday Mass?

  7. says

    This is the simple and absolute truth as I’ve experienced it in my own tragedies and sufferings! What a comfort and a Joy the cross can be. It offers us all the hope and the Love we need to endure. Thank you

  8. Patty says

    Wow. This is the concise essence of all the books written about the problem of suffering. I’m printing this one out and keeping it with my Bible.

  9. says

    So well put. Now that I’m a mother, I cannot fathom the pain of God the Father sending His ONLY Son down here to suffer and die. It hits home in a whole new way.

    Hope you’re feeling better and your baby continues to do well!

  10. says

    Thank you so much for your beautiful reflection. There is a beautiful song by the musician Matt Maher called, “You Were on the Cross.” The refrain comes back to me whenever I wonder where God was in so much misery and suffering in the world. Then, I remember “You were on the Cross.”

    God bless you and your family and all of your readers.

  11. Mike from SoCal says

    Thank for posting about this.
    Like Dennis Prager says–If it is OK to blame God for all the bad things that happen, what about all the good things that happen?”

  12. says

    Thank you.
    When my son was in the NICU, I remember screaming at God, “Where ARE you? Why are you letting my baby suffer?” And I heard back, very quietly, “I am right here with you. I am suffering with you. My son suffered too.”

    And I got it.

    I recently was pondering the phrase “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” I think He does- so we learn to lean on Him and our fellow humans. Flawed logical? Maybe- but I found it oddly comforting.

  13. says

    This is so right. God never makes us suffer in vain. It is all for a greater glory. His image on the cross is like a hug saying, “It’s ok. I am going to bring you through this.”

  14. Steph says

    Thanks for this. A great reminder.

    For some reason this year I’m really drawn to Peter’s story in the Passion. I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean (although I am thinking about it), but I just feel so crushed every time I read about Peter remembering what Jesus said when the rooster crows.

  15. Becka says

    It was three Lent’s ago that I lay in the hospital 34 weeks pregnant finding out that our fifth child, a daughter, would die after I gave birth to her from a heart condition that she was too weak to survive. All I could do was wait for five more weeks, wait and pray and panic and beg and hope that I wouldn’t have to actually go through labor and watch my infant die. But that is exactly what the Lord had me do.

    My first born child was diagnosed with cancer at five months, I watched my sister’s go through the tragic death of her husband while she cared for two small children, and I’ve watched my brother suffer the death of two children, one from SIDS, one from a a bacterial infection after birth.

    So what to make of it all? I do not know much about why we suffer. This much I know to be true, though:
    1. Jesus is with us and does care.
    2. Platitudes by people who say “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” and “God must really love you” from Christians are like an ice pick to the heart. Never over spiritualize suffering.
    3. Veronica is an ideal example of what to do when people you love or even know are suffering. Offer them not words, but a drink, a wiping of the face, an ear. And actually hear them without talking.
    4. The journey of suffering, though not meant to be walked alone, is a very lonely journey. You have to cling to the cross that holds Jesus minute by minute.
    5. All that has happened has reminded me that many many people suffer in silence. Know one knows, no one cares. I pray for them especially.

    Have a Happy Easter!

  16. says

    I lost my cousin a week ago in a tragic house fire. My aunt and uncle (his parents), who are devout Catholics, have been clinging to their faith to get them through. I sobbed as I read this beautiful post, and I am sending the link to my aunt. I know it will help them to find some peace in their grieving. Thank you.

  17. Dan says

    Doesn’t seem to answer the question: why would a being who’s near omnipotent and omniscient choose to suffer along with us? Why create suffering in the first place? It’s comforting to think that the laws are at least applied equally, but it still doesn’t make sense.

  18. says

    That’s a truly inspiring story. One needs perspective so often. I don’t pretend for a second to know of others’ sufferings. I only know the loss of my parents within 5 months of each other rocked my faith a couple of years ago. Not knowing some intellectual answers didn’t help me. ‘Why do we have to have this life and not just be in heaven?’ I remember asking myself and also wanting books from my parish priest to find answers.

    One answer that has helped me since then is the lack of contemplation of heaven. No one ever talks about it. We remain silent about God’s greatest gift, I think largely because we don’t believe it. It’s just too good to be true. And in some senses our lives are like a more immediate heaven that doesn’t require belief. (Here I don’t intend to insult the suffering souls just explain the general silence).

    It’s a simple truth, verified by experience, that proof of love is to sacrifice for the one we love. When we die we can open our hands with offerings of suffering to show we understand the enormity of the gift of eternal life.
    But I am truly humbled by those who can, in the midst of great involuntary suffering, say ‘I love you God’, as we stumble on clinging to faith, not fulling knowing the One we talk to. Even Christ felt forsaken on the Cross but called on his Father. Do I suffer? Yet somehow Christ suffered more. I distinctly remember this forsakeness helped me, He had gone through this before me. But I remained hurt inside for a long time, and probably still now subconsciously the trust in God hasn’t fully returned. It’s a work in progress.

  19. Eva says

    See, I just don’t get this. It doesn’t work for me as a concept at all. I’m assuming that there’s something fundamental that hasn’t ‘clicked’ for me yet. Le sigh!

  20. lynn says

    Jennifer, yes. Beautiful. So right on. Just last night I was telling some people I was visiting with that I know so many people really suffering deep pains and trials right now, including myself. The recent situation that I learned of this week… a friend of mine and her husband just found out their fourth child, 11 month old little girl, has an inoperable brain tumor. We settled in last night after evening Good Friday Communion service to watch the passion movie. I remember thinking pretty much what you wrote here. I thought, “there He is, right there with us, in the midst of inexplicable suffering. He gets it”. I’ve learned He brings forth fruit from suffering. If we stay with Him and persevere, we allow Him to do that is all I know.

  21. lynn says

    Dan, I don’t think God created suffering. His enemy, satan, did. God created paradise. Fallen sinful nature that came from satan’s temptation to us to not listen to God has caused all our suffering.

  22. says

    The Easter story is one which resonates with everybody… suffering and deliverance… good vs. evil… it’s such a great hope for our times!

  23. Rakhi @ The Pitter Patter Diaries says

    This reminds me of Matt Maher’s song, “You Were On the Cross.” Great reflection…

  24. bannll says


    p. 6“Throw all your anxiety upon [God].” (1 Peter 5:7) Feelings of confusion, anger, and abandonment are only natural when we endure suffering or see someone we love suffer. Still, be assured that Jehovah understands our feelings. (Exodus 3:7; Isaiah 63:9) Like faithful men of old, we can open our heart to him and express our doubts and anxieties. (Exodus 5:22; Job 10:1-3; Jeremiah 14:19; Habakkuk 1:13) He may not miraculously remove our trials, but in response to our heartfelt prayers, he can grant us the wisdom and strength to deal with them.—James 1:5, 6.

    p. 7“Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12, New International Version) Here Peter is speaking of persecution, but his words apply equally well to any suffering a believer may endure. Humans suffer privation, sickness, and loss. The Bible says that “time and unforeseen occurrence” befall everyone. (Ecclesiastes 9:11) Such things are part of the human condition at present. Realizing this will help us to deal with suffering and misfortune when it occurs. (1 Peter 5:9) Most of all, recalling the assurance that “the eyes of Jehovah are toward the righteous ones, and his ears are toward their cry for help” will especially be a source of comfort.—Psalm 34:15; Proverbs 15:3; 1 Peter 3:12.

    “Rejoice in the hope.” (Romans 12:12) Instead of dwelling on lost happiness, we can meditate on God’s promise to end all suffering. (Ecclesiastes 7:10) This well-founded hope will protect us as a helmet protects the head. Hope cushions the blows in life and helps to ensure that they do not prove fatal to our mental, emotional, or spiritual health.—1 Thessalonians 5:8.