As human beings, we suffer great hurts, and when we do, we sometimes wonder if God has abandoned us. We make huge mistakes, and it is natural to think—to fear, really—that maybe God has given up on us. But God has promised, “‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid’” (Heb. 13:5–6).
Life will be unfair to you. It will cause you to suffer physically and emotionally. It will shatter your dreams and leave you confused. There will come a time when you find yourself desperate for answers that make sense out of the chaos your life has become. But in the midst of your pain and your confusion, never let life take away from you the certainty that God knows you, he cares for you, and he is committed to you. You are not alone. You never have been and you never will be. The Lord is with you. He is concerned about you and committed to you.
When we say God is with us, we also mean God understands us and the problems we face. Over the years I have spoken with scores of people who were struggling to overcome the pain they experienced as children. Some have suffered abuse—physical, emotional, or sexual. Others have suffered wounds of absence—a parent was missing in the child’s life because of death, divorce, drugs or alcoholism, imprisonment, or work. The complaint I have heard most about fathers is this: “I felt like I never knew my father, and that he never knew me.” This can occur in a child’s life even when the father is physically present if he is unwilling to or incapable of listening to his child and understanding his or her hopes and struggles and fears.
A child wants to be seen, wants to be known. What does a little boy say when he rides his bike past his parents for the first time? “Hey, look at me!” What does a young girl say when she is finally able to do a cartwheel after trying over and over? “Mommy, Daddy, look what I can do.”
When a parent takes the time to look at us, we feel valued. When a mom takes the time to listen to us, we feel we matter. When a dad does the hard work of understanding who we are, what is important to us, and how we see the world, we feel we are not alone because someone cares.
God’s Care Manifested Through His Presence
In the Old Testament, we were given a promise. “The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14). “Immanuel” means “God with us.”
In Jesus, God fulfilled his promise and became Immanuel, God with us. In fact, he came to be one of us. Paul wrote of the incarnation of Jesus, “He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Phil. 2:7). In commenting on this verse and the Greek word for “likeness” used here (homoiwmati), Johannes Schneider explains the depth to which God was willing to “be with us” in Christ: “He truly became man, not merely in outward appearance, but in thought and feeling. He who was the full image of God became the full image of man.” (Johannes Schneider, “Homoios,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 5, eds. Gerhard Kittel and Geoffrey Bromiley, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964], 197.)
One of the earliest heresies that beset the church was Docetism. The name comes from a Greek word that means “to seem” or “to appear.” The belief was that Jesus only seemed to be a man; he only appeared to have a body, because God would never condescend to become so intimately connected to his creation. The idea that God would become human was scandalous.
But that is what happened with the coming of Christ. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). He took on our nature—our flesh, our thoughts, our feelings, and our ability to be hurt and to suffer. That means God has lived where we live, how we live. That means he understands you and me.
Does God understand the pain you feel when you are betrayed by a friend or deserted by those you love? Yes, because Jesus was betrayed and deserted. Does God understand when you give your heart, only to be rejected? Does he understand what it’s like to be misrepresented and to be lied about? Has he ever felt what it’s like to be mocked and taunted and scorned? Yes, because in Jesus, God was with us, living where we live, being tempted as we are tempted, and suffering how we suffer. You are not alone. God understands you, your struggles, and your pain.
Edward Shillito was an infantryman who survived the trench warfare of World War I and who later became a clergyman. His poem “Jesus of the Scars” captures how desperately we need a God who is with us and how healing it is to know that God understands how difficult and excruciating human life can be.
If we have never sought, we seek Thee now;
Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;
We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow,
We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars.
The heavens frighten us; they are too calm;
In all the universe we have no place.
Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?
Lord Jesus, by Thy Scars, we claim Thy grace.
The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.
Our God, no other God but our God, has scars. That means he is with us. He has lived where we lived, struggled as we struggle, and suffered as we suffer.
The author of Hebrews wrote, For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Heb. 4:15–16).
“Hey, God, look at me.” He has. “Listen to the cries of my heart.” He has. “Understand me.” He does. “Tell me I’m not alone.” You’re not.
God is with you. When you scream in frustration, when you cry at night, when you feel that the entire world is against you, he is with you. He is not a high priest who is unable to empathize with your weakness and your pain. He is with you; he knows you; he understands you. He is present to give you mercy and grace in your time of need.
When we say that God is with us, we also mean God is working for our good.
Whether we can see what God is doing or not, we can be sure that God is committed to making our lives good and full.
No man did more to spread the gospel in the first century than Paul, and no man suffered more for being faithful to his calling. Five times Paul was given thirty-nine lashes, three times he was beaten with rods, three times he was shipwrecked, once he was stoned by an angry mob and left for dead, and on many occasions he went without sufficient food, water, and even clothing. Still he wrote, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
Paul did not write that everything that happens to us is good. But he does say that in every situation God is present and working on our behalf.
Adjusting Our Theology
We Americans are terribly materialistic, and our theology tends to be rather shallow. Consequently, we may think that “working for our good” means that God is engineering a future for us that is trouble-free, financially blessed, and devoid of suffering. But that is not “the good life” God promises us, nor is that how the Scriptures define what’s best for us. The good life that God offers us is a life where we are becoming more like Jesus and being used for a great and godly purpose.
God’s great goal for each of us is that we become “conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). What was Jesus like? He was patient. How do we learn patience? There’s only one way: people irritate us over and over and we learn to remain calm and loving. Jesus was forgiving. How do we become forgiving? We are sinned against, treated unfairly, and hurt deeply, and we learn to let it go. Jesus was faithful. How do we become faithful? We face situations that fill us with fear and require us to sacrifice something we hold dear, and still we do what God is calling us to do. A trouble-free life that is devoid of great challenges and real suffering does not, cannot, create a Christlike character.
When God is working for our good, he is working to create a Christlike character within us. He is working to transform us into people who love what Jesus loved, think as Jesus thought, and serve how Jesus served. Jesus’ life was not trouble-free, devoid of stress, or without suffering. It was difficult and draining and costly because he lived to bring the kingdom of God into the lives of others. He is our model of the good life, not the picture painted by television preachers who describe God’s favor as material abundance and special treatment by others.
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- Be challenged to understand your spiritual posture as one of victory
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