Beyond the Bright Side

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
And saves those who are crushed in spirit.” – Psalm 34:18

I’ve been thinking a lot about suffering recently.

Sorry…that was rather abrupt, wasn’t it? Let me back up a bit for you.

I’m not a big fan of e-readers. I like the look and feel of a real book, I like turning pages, and, well, I’ve always been sort of an old soul, which means newfangled stuff is automatically suspect. Nonetheless, I do own a Kindle, and I’ve come to grudgingly acknowledge some of its advantages. Foremost among these are the free e-books that pop up now and then. Some, of course, turn out to be a waste of space – meaningless images that I just scroll through while I’m looking for something I actually want to read – but more than one book has pleasantly surprised me and introduced me to an author I’m now glad to know.

Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free by Tullian Tchividjian is one such book. Although I’m not quite done with it (alas, I can’t tell you how many pages I have left, because e-books don’t HAVE pages), I’ve already been deeply impressed by the author’s refreshing and candid approach to what C. S. Lewis calls “The Problem of Pain.” So often, Tchividjian notes, we try to gain control over our struggles: we try to find the “bright side”; to identify what sins led to our present condition (and how to atone for them, thereby getting happy again); to conquer them as quickly as possible so we can have a good story to tell and so people won’t judge us for not “getting over it” quickly enough. But, as he points out,

“God…intends to free us from ourselves. He even wants to liberate us from our need to find a silver lining in suffering. We see this powerful truth play out in the life of Job…He could not fix what happened to him, much less stop or explain it. In fact, he could barely hold on. Thankfully, the good news of the gospel is not an exhortation from above to ‘hang on at all costs,’ or ‘grin and bear it’ in the midst of hardship. No, the good news is that God is hanging on to you, and in the end, when all is said and done, the power of God will triumph over every pain and loss.”

This isn’t exactly what we’re used to hearing. Whether it’s a motivational speaker, a “prosperity gospel” preacher, or a well-meaning friend, the message from those who would speak to us in our pain is frequently: “Look for the bright side. Find the ‘why.’ Tell me what you’re learning. Tell me something good.” And yet the truth is, sometimes God is the only good to which we can cling amidst a world broken because of sin. To suggest otherwise is to say that we know the reason for our suffering and can therefore control it. (Job’s friends, anyone?)

Before I go on, please understand: I’m not proposing that we wallow in self-pity whenever life doesn’t go our way. The “poor me” mentality can be an attention-seeking indulgence that keeps us from growing and prevents us from recognizing when things are getting better. What I am saying, though, is that when we insist on finding the positive – as quickly as possible! – we minimize the reality that pain and sadness are an incurable disease that only the cross could cure, and will end only when Jesus comes again. Moreover, we create an atmosphere of insincerity; one in which people in the midst of a trial, approached with well-meant questions about how they’re holding up, hesitate to respond with the truth – that they’re still hurting, and that just living from one moment to the next requires every ounce of energy.

The good news is that, when we come to God with our pain, we need no carefully-worded platitudes; no pretense that, well, things are tough but we’re hanging in there and we can definitely see that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. As David says in Psalm 139:

“O Lord, You have searched me and known me…
You understand my thought from afar…
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.”

God knows our hearts – even better than we do – and we need not hide those thoughts and feelings that seem negative and therefore shameful. Reading through the Psalms, we can see that the authors thereof felt no such compunction. In Psalm 66, David pleads with the Lord:

“Save me, O God,
For the waters have threatened my life…
I have come into deep waters,
and a flood overflows me.
I am weary with my crying;
my throat is parched;
My eyes fail while I wait for my God.”

Further on, we find Asaph lamenting in Psalm 77:

“In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord;
In the night my hand was stretched out without weariness;
My soul refused to be comforted…
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.”

In the end, it’s only when we bare our souls to God, acknowledging our brokenness and our inability to handle things on our own, that we can truly focus on Him instead of ourselves…and begin to find rest in His immense love for us. As Ed Cyzewski put it in his book, Why We Run From God’s Love – another e-book that turned out to be a beautiful surprise –

God’s sturdy arms catch us when all we have to offer is our broken dreams and weak legs to leave us falling before Him with nothing left to offer. The truth is that we could never stand on our own all along. We’ve never been healthy or as we should be…there is something within us that will spark to life when we experience the parental love of God. We’ll know that we have been accepted as we are, and in Him, we’re loved more deeply than we could ever imagine. We’ll stop running, and we’ll finally rest because we are loved.


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