I’m typing this sitting in a doctors office in Boston, Massachusetts. I’ve traveled across the country to sit in a chair beside one of my dearest friends in the world and so I can hold her hand while people say really hard things to her and operate on her and give her shots in very unpleasant places.
Recently, I have a bit of an empathy situation. It’s out of control and awkward. Today my sweet strong friend was doing AWESOME in her appointment and there I was – on the verge of tears. Hold it together fabs. Hold it together.
But it’s hard. Because I don’t like it. I don’t like people hurting her. I don’t like sitting next to her helpless to heal.
You know what else I don’t like? I don’t like reading about Ferguson. I don’t like hearing about Iraq. I hate looking at pictures of my sweet friends’ baby in the NICU – them standing by, unable to help, unable to heal, unable to hold.
I hear the voice of the Church speaking out with the truth: God is in control. He’s in control over hurting babies and f-ed up bodies. He’s in control over the hard things in our lives. And that is good and great news.
But I have this fear that in the communication of that glorious truth we would reduce God to His sovereignty at the expense of His compassion, His empathy, His passion.
Our God is complicated. His characteristics are never separate. He cannot be reduced to one attribute. He is never wise at the expense of His grace. He is never kind at the expense of His justice. He is all things at all times.
If we zoom in on one attribute so much that the others fade out of focus, we might wrongly conclude that God is up in Heaven with crossed arms and composure in the face of our suffering. We might start to think that God ordaining something means that He feels good about it.
God is different then my friends who sit in the NICU and watch their baby stuffer unable to fix it. He’s different from me: sitting beside a painful friend, helpless to help. God is different because He actually holds all the power. He upholds all things by the power of His Word.
But my friends who sit in the NICU and watch their baby suffer have something in common with God. There’s a reason He created families and parents as the metaphor for His heart (and not bosses or employers).
Do you know how God felt today in the appointment while I sat beside Ashley as people physically hurt her for her good? He probably felt a lot like my friend watching his daughter hurting in the NICU:
Do you know how desperately I want to take ALL of this away from her? …I wouldn’t just take a little bit of it either. I would take ALL of it. I would take the diaphragmatic hernia, the pulmonary hypertension, the breathing tubes, the IVs, the needles, the pain, the neonatal fear and all of her suffering. I would take all of it…
After all – isn’t that the God we hear screaming from the Cross? A God who hungers to take on our pain.
For those hurting today, know this: our God is not composed in the face of your pain. He feels wrath at the brokenness of the world. He feels grieved by the pain experienced. He feels a passionate urgency to intercede and rescue all His kids. And the ONLY thing that is keeping Him from acting on those feelings is the fullness of His character. He is restrained by a love that commands Him to steward all of His children for their greatest good. He is unwilling to react to what He wants in a moment – even if it would allow Him to alleviate His OWN pain because He has promised to make every decision for the good of Ashley, for the good of me and for the glory of his name. He’s a good doctor who doesn’t decide to forgo a life saving surgery because it hurts. But do not be confused: He takes no pleasure in the pain.
For those who are comforting people who hurt today: seek to be an image bearer in the face of your friends’ pain. God isn’t standing composed, nodding gently and offering advice. He isn’t an awkward and distant uncle, patting the hurting on their backs and explaining how it’s all going to be okay. He is a passionate Father and an emotional Husband. He is the God who collects every tear in a bottle. He is Jesus – arms outstretched, eager to wrap up His people in His arms, like a mother hen. His fists clench as He watches injustice, just waiting to passionately fling over the tables of those who abuse His temple.
Weep with those who weep. You will rarely look more like God.