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where is god in the midst of suffering? Image

where is god in the midst of suffering?



Week 4 - Where is God in the midst of suffering?

Please take a few short minutes to watch the Week 4 Training Video and review your Facilitator Notes (pages 40-44).

Almost 2 years ago, few of us could have imagined that we would be facing a global pandemic, unemployment would reach levels not seen since the Great Depression, and over 927,000 Americans would be dead. Covid-19 is the definition of a catastrophe—“a sudden and widespread disaster.” When catastrophes occur we are left stunned as our vision of the world is dismantled and our sense of control shattered. What remains are questions: Why did this happen? Will we recover? Where is God?

As of today, like many of you, I have been in self-isolation for several weeks. Honestly, it is a bit like suffering; except now, of course, there are those who are truly suffering from loss (job, life, financial) and our prayers are with the innumerable people who are ill with COVID-19 and so many who are grieving loved ones who have died. Our hearts are heavy for the health care workers, first responders, and other essential workers who continue to put themselves at risk every day. We're also concerned about the many people now facing financial challenges, or whose marginalization has only been made worse by the virus. This type of experience leads us to experience solidarity with the suffering.

Tragedy, Suffering, Chaos, & God’s Sovereignty.

“If God is all-powerful and all-loving, why is anyone suffering? He must not be one of the two.” The study of this question is called Theodicy.

This is an important question and one that has a lot of attempts at explanation. We will never fully be able to understand the answer in this lifetime. Your Rooted book goes through some very important perspectives and partial answers about this and we won’t revisit all of them here. The most important of them all, of course, is that God doesn’t trivialize our pain or remove himself from the situation, but instead he experiences it completely for himself so that we can have a way out. 

Suffering, of course, can lead us in one of two directions. It can make us very bitter and close us down, or it can make us wise, compassionate, and utterly open. Our hearts open either because they have been softened, or perhaps because suffering makes us feel like we have nothing more to lose. It often takes us to the edge of our inner resources where we “fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). Such a profound ability to change is often the result of suffering and various forms of difficulty. Our day-to-day desires don’t surrender without a fight. If we understand suffering to be whenever we are not in control, then we see why some form of suffering is absolutely necessary to teach us how to live beyond the illusion of control and to give that control back to God and the flow of reality.

The second most important point is that the ability to love necessitates the opportunity to choose and trust.

So, there are two key ideas for the posture of your group as you start this conversation:

  • Don’t Try to Solve It.

Theodicy is a mystery. Though there are important clues, our limited perspective will never be able to truly explain for sure why everything happens.

That means that you should do your best to avoid and redirect cliches. Though people oftentimes try to be comforting, some of those trite, simplistic phrases can cause more damage than good. However, this needs to be a safe place for even the people saying these cliches. So, try to ask clarifying questions to help them think through what they mean. Here are some examples:

“Everything happens for a reason.” This is a well-intentioned mantra of faith. However, “everything” includes a lot of heinous things that are certainly not the “will of God.”  He is very clear about how he feels about injustice, suffering, and evil (Psalm 12:5, Isaiah 10:1-3). This inadequate phrase reflects an even more beautiful truth: He’s so good at redeeming messed-up situations that he makes them look purposeful. Things don’t happen for a reason, but God can bring reason or meaning to those situations.

“What is God trying to teach you through this?” God may teach you something through a situation, but that doesn’t mean he caused that situation for the purpose of teaching you a lesson. Yes, the Bible tells us he “disciplines” those he loves (e.g. Hebrews 12:6), but that doesn’t mean their painful situation is God’s discipline. Remember the harsh criticism reserved for Job’s friends who, though well-intentioned, misappropriated his suffering to God and misspoke to Job in a time of needed support.

“You just need to have more faith.” Jesus certainly uses measurement metaphors when talking about faith. However, he also says that a tiny amount of faith (e.g. a mustard seed size) is enough to do impossible things (e.g. move mountains, Matthew 17:20). He also helps those who admit their struggle to have faith. (“I believe, help me with my unbelief,” Mark 9:24)

Be Sensitive.

Hopefully, you’ve had a chance to be pretty vulnerable with each other so far. It’s likely, though, that there are several painful scars or even ongoing issues among those in your group, that have not come out in your group yet. Recognize that there might be someone in your group who’s seriously asking this question in the middle of their present or lingering suffering.  Pray that He might keep us from simply hoping things quickly return to “normal” (though that is a comforting thought to many) and instead of praying for the courage to “change and grow in love.”

Preparing for Next Session | Week 5

Next week is the “Strongholds Week.” Be sure to consider how you will break up your group (separate males and females) and who will lead each. If you don’t have a co-leader that’s the opposite sex, be sure to pay attention this week to someone with leadership capacity and prepare them to help in the following weeks. Consider moving your sessions beyond the altogether group time.

Your facilitator’s guide offers substantial help when it comes to that week on pages 98-105. Some of this might feel strange, but I’d encourage you to do your best to let this rhythm stretch you.

Serve Experience | Plan ahead for Week 6-7

Make sure to get something on the books for your experience between or around weeks 6 and 7.

Try to prioritize something that’s relational with those you’re serving. It’s not a must, but it’s highly preferred.

As always if you have any questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to contact us at