The God of the Bible brooks no rivals, takes the helm in directing the course of time, and so is seen in both fortune and misfortune. Indeed, God is invoked as a punishing presence: “Although our iniquities testify against us, act, O Lord, for your name’s sake” (Jer. 14:7). And yet there is loving restraint: “Do not spurn us for your name’s sake; do not dishonor your glorious throne” (Jer. 14:21). God has a reputation to protect, a covenant to keep, a people to whom he has given promises. Even if they are faithless, God is faithful to purify them in the anguish of their sorrow as they await a better day.
The God who punishes in judgment, however, has not thereby sanctioned all suffering. For the Lord has spoken: “I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows” (Ex. 3:7). Unjust suffering is the work of the enemy and it remains the Christian’s call to go with Christ to Calvary in delivering the devil a fatal blow, to takes one’s place in fear and trembling in the cause of human freedom when the hour of testing comes. Expect resistance and misery, threat and abuse, but know also that roaring demons could not hold the gates when Christ, with the heavy blow of his foot, broke them open. The new Adam is not wearing chains.
Returning to the long course of history, God comes in blessing again: “You shall eat plenty and be satisfied … and I will pour out my spirit on all flesh” (Joel 2:26-32). The rain will come, early and late; the threshing floor will be full of grain, the vats overflowing with oil. This good life that is coming will seem sheer folly if announced to those yet in the deepest and darkest moments of suffering. Whether the anguish is the just consequence of moral decline or the tragedy of unjust suffering, no word of hope will console unless delivered at just the right time and in the right way. Only God can do this, through the agency of another, perhaps, or through a constellation of circumstances; but God alone knows how to awaken the desperate heart, and when to awaken it.
Arriving again to the time of blessing and plenty, generosity is the day’s law. God has given and we give too. “Give to the Most High as he has given to you, and as generously as you can afford” (Sir. 35:12). Looking back, we can say, “I was rescued from the lion’s mouth” (2 Tim. 4:17b). With gratitude we may confess, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). The Spirit’s pouring forth, the rain, the wine, and the oil may allow the past and all its sorrow to take on a new meaning. There is, to be sure, no cogent and consoling word to explain human anguish. The mystery of suffering may, however, get caught, we pray, in the gravitational pull of the bloody cross that is the means of our redemption. The Paschal Mystery is every passion, every death pinned to the cross, every death transformed by deathless life.
All this is a gift. Thus we pray, “I know, dear God, that I am just like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, even this tax collector” (cf. Luke 18:11).
Look It Up
Read Ps. 65:9. Stand in the rain.
Think About It
Tell God to help you, for his name’s sake.