How do we find peace and safety when there is an unjust situation and God doesn’t intervene?
This was a question posed on Twitter recently by a friend talking about a personal incident in their lives, and Jenny Rowbory’s wise reply caught my eye.
Jenny became ill when she was 18, training to become a doctor: her beautiful mind trapped in a broken body. She has been bed bound with very severe M.E. and vascular EDS for the last fourteen years, suffering more in her 32 years than anyone else I know. She is in constant, agonising pain, unable to sit up or talk, isolated in darkness, her body unable to tolerate even a whisper of noise without it causing her severe pain. Most recently, she risked her life by travelling by ambulance to a specialist for the growing severe numbness in her head – and was met only with shrugs and more questions. She walks the tightrope of life and death every day – yet she expends the minuscule amount of precious energy she has on campaigning for change or encouraging others. She is incredible, and a great friend to me.
When Jenny Rowbory talks about suffering, I listen. Jenny has walked with God many years through unbearable pain, and I deeply respect her theology. So I’m absolutely overjoyed to have her permission to share with you her words on suffering and the vulnerability of God, which I’ve arranged in an interview style – please read, absorb and share widely.
Q: How do you cope with the injustice of your suffering when God doesn’t intervene?
I’ve been living with the realities of the non-intervening side of God for nearly fourteen years. It doesn’t get easier but I’ve also realised that my expectations were skewed by so much Christian teaching – that God always saves or rescues you and intervenes when you need it most and when you pray hard and passionately. None of this is actually promised in the Bible but, before becoming ill, I heard this preached so often.
People seem to need to believe that God will intervene in desperate situations for them, even though when looking at the world, you can see that’s not the case in most instances. It’s very rare that miracles happen.
Q: What does God actually promise us about suffering?
All God promises is to be with us always, even if we can’t sense it or experience it in a tangible way. Getting to know the God who does not save, who does not help in the way that I want, has been both excruciating and, on the rare occasion when I feel God’s and my hearts beating together in the same place, so close that you can feel what he’s feeling, both his pain and an indescribable love, it’s breathtaking and melts you. It doesn’t change the desperate situation you’re in, it doesn’t help in any way that you’re needing or wanting but it’s what’s there. It doesn’t help with understanding why either.
Q: How do we make sense of a God who doesn’t intervene always in people’s suffering?
I’ve been thinking about it more and what strikes me is how vulnerable God makes himself. He risks losing people he loves and risks us ending up hating him when we feel so hurt by him and/or very angry when he doesn’t intervene or protect us in the way even any earthly loving parent would.
Q: Tell me more about God’s silence in hard times – is it a test?
I don’t think he’s testing us and he definitely doesn’t want us in pain or any cruel nonsense like that. Instead, there’s the intense vulnerability of whether we’ll still love him back for who he is, not for what he does and whether we’ll still see the good in him. It might take a long time to get there and a lot of anger at him and hurt and feeling betrayed by God, which must be painful for him but he just absorbs it all. There is something special though when we do see his goodness and still love him, despite our anguish and what we perceive as his lack of action, and I think that melts him. [This has been] my experience.
Tweetables:'My expectations were skewed by so much Christian teaching' - @Stroopwaffle on suffering and prayer for @Tanya_Marlow: Click To Tweet 'What strikes me is how vulnerable God makes himself' - @Stroopwaffle, speaks about suffering and faith: Click To Tweet 'It’s very rare that miracles happen.' - @Stroopwaffle's perspective on suffering and faith Click To Tweet
Jenny Rowbory, aka J.K. Rowbory, is a published poet, writer and campaigner. She is currently raising money for two charities to help others like her with severe ME and vEDS.
Over to you:
- Where do you see the vulnerability of God, either in the Bible or your life?
- How does this give you a different perspective on suffering?
[correction: an earlier edit of this said that Jenny was 19 when she got ill, and 33 now – but I had aged her by a year in both cases! Sorry, Jenny…!]