Nate Pyle is someone who combines a love for scripture, razor-sharp analysis and vivid storytelling. I love his intelligence and authenticity as he writes out his life as a pastor in Indiana, and I am thrilled to bits that he is here today.
(Trigger Warning: baby loss).
When we stopped at the stoplight I looked over at my wife. Fear and pain ran down your face in the form of tears. Her arms were wrapped around her abdomen because of the pain. Or maybe it was a passionate attempt to hold what we knew we would lose.
The doctors had warned us days before that the pregnancy might be ectopic. Because they weren’t sure, we gingerly held on to hope. We talked softly about how she felt, but never about the future. We needed something more concrete. We needed freedom from pain. We needed stability. For a few days we held on to the silence. But when the pain came, our hope went.
We were going to the hospital to end a pregnancy we had longed and hoped for.
A week later I found myself in the woods. I wandered aimlessly trying to get lost. Trying to find a place far enough away from everyone so I could ask the questions I needed to ask.
“Where were you? You said you knit us together in our mother’s womb but you didn’t even make sure this child got there? That’s on you!”
I was suffering under the questions, and yelling them into the quiet woods brought some release.
You see, when we suffer, we suffer twice.
There is always the cause of our suffering. The failed marriage, the unexpected illness, death, loss of job – these circumstances are painful and difficult. They remind us that life isn’t the way that it’s supposed to be. They ruin the wholeness of life, and make us cry out for a world that is both foreign and near to us. A world where every thing is the way that it should be. We don’t know this world, but we know it should be.
But the circumstance is not the only source of our suffering. Once the circumstance rears its ugly head we begin to suffer under the weight of the questions.
“What did I do to deserve this?”
“Where is God in all of this?”
It’s easy to think we’re alone in our suffering. The truth of the matter is that while our circumstances may be unique, our questions are not. The questions are what unify us. The questions are what’s common to everyone everywhere who has ever suffered.
I’ve learned there is freedom in the questions. Once I got over the shame I felt surrounding the fact that I was a pastor who asked questions such as these of God, I found an incredible amount of freedom in actually asking the questions. The questions, I found, were the most honest, gut-wrenching prayers I’ve ever prayed. The questions I brought before God broke the routine of my acronym-based prayers and, in a rare moment of honesty, I didn’t dress in my Sunday best for God. I brought all of who I am to all of who God is and let that be enough.
And it was. It is.
Unfortunately, far too many of us suffer because we think the questions mean we are not true believers. That if we had a real faith then even in the most tragic of situations we wouldn’t have any questions. That our faith would be unshakeable. Unbreakable. That’s the lie. I can’t help but wonder if the opposite is actually true. What if our questions actually reveal the strength of our faith rather than its weakness? What if our questions about why God would allow us to suffer actually reveal our hope?
I believe God is good. I believe God heals, restores, redeems, and saves. I believe God suffered because of his good, divine choice and that because God suffered in Jesus he not only meets us in our suffering, but can make the ashes of our suffering into something beautiful. Questions about our suffering do not reveal cracks in our belief, but actually reveal that we are yearning for that reality. They reveal we truly believe God can ease our suffering, and we are crying out for God to act in only the way that God can. Our questions reveal our belief in a God who can restore our broken circumstances, and we are lamenting that it has not yet happened.
In other words, our questions are a quiet demand that God do what God has promised to do.
I look at the faith of those who have gone before us and I notice that the patriarchs of our faith seem to have a relationship with God quite different than ours. Abraham bartered with God and reminded God who he was. Jacob demanded that God bless him while they wrestled in the dust. Moses told God he couldn’t kill the Israelites because of who he was. Job questioned God for 38 chapters. The psalmist wondered why God abandoned him. Their faith was raw, human, and unafraid to lament that God didn’t seem to be living up to his character. Now, they didn’t always get answers to their questions, but they always got God. Their questions, and their willingness to ask questions directly to God, wrought a special intimacy and trust that brought comfort because God came near to them.
That’s the kind of faith I want. That’s the kind of faith I need. That’s a human faith. And in the end, the truth is I don’t need the answers to my questions. I just need the nearness of God.
Nate Pyle is a pastor and author. Nate pastors in Fishers, Indiana, a suburb of Indianapolis, and writes at www.natepyle.com and his book, Man Enough: How Jesus Redefines Manhood, will be released on September 29, 2015.
On questions and the nearness of God – @natepyle79 tells his God and Suffering Story for @Tanya_Marlow:
“We were going to the hospital to end a pregnancy we had longed and hoped for.” – @NatePyle79 for @Tanya_Marlow:
“In a rare moment of honesty, I didn’t dress in my Sunday best for God.” – @NatePyle79’s God and Suffering Story:
“The questions…were the most honest, gut-wrenching prayers I’ve ever prayed.” – @NatePyle79 for @Tanya_Marlow:
“What if our questions actually reveal the strength of our faith rather than its weakness?” –NEW post by @NatePyle79:
“God…can make the ashes of our suffering into something beautiful.” @NatePyle79 On questions and the Nearness of God:
Over to you:
- “When we suffer, we suffer twice.” What do you think about Nate’s observation?
- What do you find encouraging from Nate’s God and Suffering story?
- When you’ve suffered, what have you done with the questions?