My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help? Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night I lift my voice, but I find no relief. (Psalm 22:1-2)
One of the greatest challenges in life is to be suffering intense pain—whether it is physical, emotional, mental or spiritual—and call out to God and the answer is nothing but silence. Why? First of all, why do we suffer? And then, second, why is God silent when we are in the pit of suffering? There are no easy answers to these questions.
One could say that we are suffering because of humanity’s first disobedience in the Garden and we have been ruined ever since. And while that would be true, it is not very helpful. One could say that we are suffering because some of our cells have gone rogue and are multiplying at a frenetic pace, or that our brain chemistry has gone awry. And while those things may be true, they are not really helpful either.
But what might help us is to stop trying to escape our suffering for a moment and name the pain that we are experiencing. What is going on inside of us? What are we thinking, what are we feeling? What is going on in our mind, in our body and in our spirit?
Having identified your location in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, know this: you are never alone. Even when God is silent, He is still with you. We know that because Jesus has gone ahead of us and suffered the totality of human pain—mental, physical, emotional and spiritual—in our place as He hung on the cross. He went further and deeper into that Valley than we will ever go so that, when we are in the midst of our own Death Valley, we could know with certainty that He is with us, even in the times of silence.
There is something called the Theology of Presence which says that there are times, especially in times of grief, when words fail to provide any meaningful comfort and the best thing one person can do for another is simply to sit with them in silence. The presence of that other person, even when one is in a pit of pain, breaks down the isolation and helps because the suffering person realizes that they are not alone. And if they are not alone, then there is the possibility of a way out of the pain, and that brings hope especially when the other person knows our pain from their personal experiences and they come as God’s representative.
So after naming your pain, I encourage you to think about Jesus and what He went through on the cross so He could be with you in your pain. Meditating on Psalm 22 is one way that you could do that for it describes, in advance, what Jesus experienced on the cross.
You are never alone. Jesus is always with you.
Dear Jesus, thank you for dying on the cross and rising again from the dead so that you could always be with me. Even though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me (Psalm 23:4). Amen.