It only took me two sittings to finish Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death by Russ Ramsey. And that’s because I had to go to sleep. Grateful to have Russ share here for you today about how God is with us in the midst of our suffering. He certainly knows what he’s talking about — when his doctor told him he was dying, he came alive.
God does not owe me a life free from suffering. To expect that he does is to grossly misread the Scriptures. Pick a saint, any saint, and you will find a trail of sorrow, hurt, sin, and catastrophe in their wake.
Behind Abraham sits Hagar a bowshot away from her son Ishmael who has been cast out of the camp. She is waiting for the boy to die.
Behind David is Uriah the Hittite lying dead on the battle field while the king’s son grows in Uriah’s wife’s womb.
Behind Peter, the sound of the cat o’nine tails raking across the back of his best friend is interrupted by the crow of a rooster.
The Lord does not owe me a pain-free life. But he does promise to be with me in it.
Because the Lord often withholds explanation for our pain, we must not look at suffering as though it is some divine gimmick designed to teach us some important life lesson. That would make too little of the reality.
God’s people do not walk through suffering toward the moral of the story. Rather, we walk toward the eternal presence of the Maker and Lover of our souls. This I must remember.
I must also proclaim that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Suffering is not an event. It is a path. Scripture calls it a road pocked with miry clay and slippery rocks.
There are plenty of advisors out there who would counsel me to dress this up in positive thinking. But I do not think it would be honest to try to pad my experience with cleverly contrived optimism that denies what is true. My faith in Christ provides a deeper, truer way.
I want to feel my sorrow. I want to walk in it. If the Lord walks there with me, what possible advantage could there be in conjuring another way?
No, I choose the road of suffering, and I pray for the courage to walk it honestly. The truth is my heart is broken.
I need time to say as the psalmist said, “When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints.” As part of my confession of faith, I need to say that I am not okay—not completely.
Lamentation is a part of worship. It is that part of us that cries out over the sorrow of the suffering, pain, and relational brokenness by which we have all been hurt.
I lament to the Lord that over these past two years I have been the bruised reed he has promised not to break. I am the smoldering wick he has promised not to extinguish. I am the brokenhearted whose wounds need binding. God gave me this body with all of its physical limits, and then he broke me. He is at the same time my Healer and the one who has permitted my affliction.
The deeper I venture into this affliction, the more questions I have. But I remember C. S. Lewis who said, “When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘no answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though he shook his head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.’”
I have reconciled myself to the fact that there is much I do not understand. But where else can I go? He alone has the words of life. Though he slay me, yet will I trust him. But though I trust him, yet shall I lament that he has slain me.
Russ grew up in the fields of Indiana. He and his wife and four children make their home in Nashville, Tennessee.
Russ is the author of Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative (Rabbit Room Press, 2011), Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Crossway, 2015), and Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017).
Russ Ramsey’s personal mission is to communicate the truths of Scripture in accessible ways to people in process. To learn more about Russ, visit his website.