Can I Trust God? My Struggle with Suffering

Recently I was part of a church retreat discussing God’s work of justification, sanctification, and glorification in the lives of Christians.  In simple terms, this is the redemptive work of God that transforms us and makes us new…like God (Eph 4.24).  The New Testament is full of imagery as to how this process comes about.  In the Gospel of John, though already God in the flesh, Jesus found glorification through his suffering death.  For both the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter, this process came about through trials and sufferings.  So it seems clear that God is reshaping us into his likeness through the daily struggles we face.  That is not to say that God is the cause of pain and affliction.  It is just to say that God works through the adverse circumstances of a broken world to justify, sanctify, and glorify his people.

That is what we want…right?  That is what I want…or at least the words out of my mouth speak of such desire.  The scripture which probably reflects this desire more than anything are the words of the Apostle Paul:

I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his suffering, becoming like him in his death, and so somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.  Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  (Phil 3.10-12, TNIV)

I used to pray this as a prayer.  I still do…I still want to.  I even remember singing the song “Make me more like you Lord Jesus, more like you…for it seems in so many ways I’m not enough like you…”  Oh did I ever want that.  I would pray for God to do whatever it takes….

Then on August 2, 2002 my son, Kenny, died. 

I learned something about myself at this church retreat.  I am afraid to pray the prayer for God’s justification, sanctification, and glorification in my life because I’m afraid of what adverse circumstances God might allow me to live through in order to get there.  I am afraid because there has never been something which hurt so much as losing my child.  I am afraid because if I give up that control which wants to protect myself from what I fear then what will happen next.

I want to pray the prayer for transformation again but…  That is just it.  I know there can be no “but” attached to the prayer…no conditions and stipulations placed upon God.  I either must trust God that it will all be worth it on that day of glorification and leave it at that. 

My mind says “Yes!”  The Spirit of God living in me says “Yes!”  But my wounded heart says remains silent, unsure of what to say.  It wants to say “Yes!” It knows it should say “Yes!”  But my heart knows of the pain that exists between Friday, the day of crucifixion, and Sunday, the day of resurrection. 

Can I trust God?  Can I trust God enough to say “Yes!” when so much between Friday and Sunday remain unknown?

——————————————————————

Here is a video, which I have posted before, to a hymn I have come to love…a hymn which undoubtedly reminds me to say yes even when my heart wants to remain silent.

Libera, “Be Still, My Soul”

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11 responses to “Can I Trust God? My Struggle with Suffering

  1. The Good News… Your son is not in your past, he’s in your future.

    I Thess 4:13-18 “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”

    Before I became a Christian, there were times I used to say I would be a good Christian, because I was suffering needlessly. Now that I’m a Christian the suffering issue has been of major importance to me. I believe the the suffering we are to endure is plainly stated in…

    I Pet 4:1-2 “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God.”

    I believe the suffing comes from our decisions to not sin, submit as directed and resist the devil (who is the one that steals, kills and destroys). The suffering is the putting the body (flesh) under subjection and doing the will of God…

    You may believe otherwise and if so, I would ask for one Biblical example where the death of one’s son (or daughter) provided that parent justification, sanctification or glorification in the sight of God.

  2. One Man’s Beliefs,

    Thanks for stopping by. I do believe my son will experience the resurrection of the dead that all of God’s people hope for.

    I realize that much of the suffering spoken of in the New Testament deals with suffering in the flesh for the sake of Christ. This is because physical suffering was suffering being faced by most of the Christians in the first century. However, scripture (both OT & NT) recognizes other forms of suffering, such as the passage in First Thessalonians which you cited where the death of fellow Christians has produced suffering (and given the early date by which 1 Thess. was written, the deaths mentioned were most likely natural rather than persecution). And certainly just because scripture does not mention a form of suffering (i.e., child abuse) does not mean such an example is not suffering.

    Any ways…justification, sanctification, and glorification are all part of our hope, which Paul says is learned through suffering, endurance, and character resulting in hope (Rom 5.3-4).

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  3. Rex,

    Thanks for the kind rebuttal!!!

    “And certainly just because scripture does not mention a form of suffering (i.e., child abuse) does not mean such an example is not suffering.”

    True… But, I do not believe this is what Paul means by “tribulation” in Romans 5:3. Or, that this is the type of Christ’s sufferings he wishes us to endure in I Peter 4:13.

    However, I’m still growing and still learning…

  4. One Man’s Beliefs,

    Suffering the death of a child, divorce, personal illness/injury, etc… may or may not be the suffering Paul specifically had in mind when he was writing to the Christians in Rome, but such suffering does require endurance in order to move into character and hope. Job is the perfect example of such a journey.

    Any ways…in your original comment you mentioned that you had been through your own sufferings…I’m sorry and pray that God is filling you with the hope that sustains.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

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  6. If we don’t trust god, then how can we say that we love Him? We go through many tests and trials, it builds faith and strength, but if we continue to have worries, fears and doubts, then how can we be honest and say that we trust God? This life here is just a preparation for our next life which will be eternal. We should look forward to any tests and trials that we have to go through because they raise us up higher and higher and someday worries, fears and doubts will not exist in our lives. God Bless You

    • John,

      Thanks for stopping by the blog for a visit and leaving a comment. It is always nice to have new visitors.

      The struggle to trust has nothing to do with a lack of love for God. I have a deep love for God and I believe those who know me well (personally) would attest to that. Many of the Psalms, especially the Lament Psalms (e.g., Ps 88), voice the worries, fears, and doubts of faith rather than the lack of faith. The difference is, it is the voice of a faith that has been hurt and is struggling to trust God against the backdrop of grief and suffering. That has been my personal struggle and it is a struggle of faith rather than the lack of faith because it is a struggle I turn over to God in prayer, in lament, in the community of God’s Spirit-filled people, etc…

      I also must say that I don’t know your story but my story includes the trial/test of having a son die. I cannot imagine looking forward to any such kind of trial/test. While I don’t believe Christians ought to run and hide from trials, I think Jesus’ prayer in the garden for there to be another way than the cross is sufficient grounds to say that there is room wihtin biblical faith for disdainment towards impending trials and temptations. Further, I cannot imagine telling someone suffering the loss of a child, a terrible illness, etc… that they should look forward to such a trial.

      Grace and peace,

      Rex

  7. I don’t know what it is like to lose a son. I am sorry that you had to go through that. I didn’t mean for you to take what I wrote as a direct statement towards you. I wasn’t trying to be mean or anything. When I said we should welcome tests and trials, I wasn’t implying that they should include losing family members. I feel bad that you read it that way. I did lose my daughter to crack. She’s been on it for 13 years. I rarely ever see her. I don’t know where she is or who she’s with or if I am going to get that phone call one day. I am concerned about her and I feel bad for her that she has to go through this. I pray for her and I trust God enough to know that He is with her. Again I’m sorry for your loss and may God comfort and bless you always.

    • John,

      I didn’t take what you said in your earlier comment personally, I was just trying to use my own story (which is like many other stories I have heard) as an example of how one can struggle with worry, doubt, fear, etc… and do so in the context of faith in God.

      Any ways, I am sorry to hear about your daughter. I have two other children (both are young in age) and I cannot imagine the pain you feel. I wish things were different.

      Grace and peace,

      Rex

  8. Hello K Rex Butts

    I hope you are healing since the date you published the blog I have just read. I have never written any posts on any blogs before but I was very moved by what you said. I very have little knowledge of the scriptures in the bible.I know that there has been lots of scriptures written speaking of suffering being rewarded & no reward without suffering. At an early age I discovered that I cannot believe that God is the way he is reflected in the bible. ( I had exposure to the bible from Mother & Grandmother). However this is not about me or my belief system. I am just giving a little background. I do not believe that God would WANT us, his children to suffer. We are all on a journey of enlightenment whether we know it, accept it or not. We are here to share life with each other. How beautiful is that experience when two or more people of any race, sex, age or nationality reach out to each other for no personal gain and during that time each one recieves some upliftment. It is unfortunately rare. I believe We have all come here with a purpose or we wouldn’t be here. God doesn’t make mistakes but he doesn’t often make it clear to us what our purpose is. I can imagine if Martin Luther King was told his end when he was 10 years old, he may have chosen to work in nightclub instead. But how important his experience was. We as
    humans tend not to listen until we are forced to hear. There is always growth after the survival
    of trauma or at least the opportunity of growth because suffering makes us search our souls to stop the pain and in that searching we listen to what the soul has for us. Suffering forces us on journeys that we would undertake If we were too comfortable. It’s our condition. I don’t know why this loss has happened to you & your family, I don’t know how you feel. I do know that it can only be natural that you wonder. But please fear not praying to God for his love, acceptance because What father or Mother would want their children to Suffer to recieve what is rightfully
    theirs?. Every word has several interpretations and that must also be the case in the scriptures of the bible. If the Sun is beaming through a cloud, is it a cloudy or a sunny day?.

    Best wishes

    • Ane,

      Thanks for your comment. I hope I don’t sound like I am depressed all day long, every day because I’m not. This blog post was more of just a reflection on my own faith struggles since losing my son. I use the phrase “faith struggles” intentionally because they are struggles that are born in faith and wrestled with in faith. Any ways…thanks again for taking the time to read and comment.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

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