Life is hard because evil is real. It hurts to live in this world.
If we’re not hurt by our own stupidity and sinful deeds, the evil committed against us by others can be deeply painful and damaging. And our hearts become particuarly vulnerable when we’re victims of the evil actions of others.
Beyond what happens to us, there is also a secondary kind of suffering we experience when those we love are either hurt by others or when they hurt themselves.
In all of this painful mess, the question will sooner or later be asked about how God relates to our pain.
When bad things happen to us that we cannot directly control and that prayer will not immediately change, we might find ourselves wrestling through a few dark nights of the soul concerning how God relates to the hardships of life.
But in such times, when we’ve been hurt badly by uncontrollable turns in life, we must guard our hearts from misguided conclusions about God. He is our source of comfort (II Corinthians 1:3-4) and we only add to the pain when we distance ourselves from God.
But the temptation to become disillusioned and bitter is real and Scripture warns against it. The possibility of developing “a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God” is presented as a serious concern for the community of believers (see: Hebrews 3:12-13). According to this text, we are called to watch out for one another and to encourage one another — daily, if necessary.
Reflect on the example of Joseph
A man named Joseph suffered a series of “misfortunes” beyond his control (Genesis 37-50). There was little he could have done to stop the abrupt and sad change he experienced. As is often the case, it all began for Joseph with a dysfunctional family.
Joseph came from a large family. He had many brothers but his father loved him more than any of them. Joseph was the “victim” of parental favoritism that made him the object of sibling hatred born of jealousy (see: Genesis 37:11).
When only seventeen years old, “his brothers hated Joseph because their father loved him more than the rest of them. They couldn’t say a kind word to him” (Genesis 37:4). As the object of two opposite responses (parental favoritism and sibling hatred), Joseph became a victim of unimaginable circumstances.
After many years of forced separation from his family, Joseph reconnected with his brothers. His words to them are rich reflections of deep trust in God’s providential rule over the evil intentions and actions of man.
“Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:1-8a).
Joseph said to his brothers, “You intended to harm me but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).
Liberated to love
When we yield to God’s sovereign control in the ugliness of life (see: Daniel 3:16-18; 4:34-35; Proverbs 3:11-12; Romans 12:17-21; Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-12), it liberates us to follow Jesus in radical kingdom obedience (see: I Peter 2:21-25). Jesus said,
“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28).
We are free under God from the poison of bitterness and the evil of revenge. We are free to refuse to participate in the multiplication of evil. We can even choose to absorb the loss and return a blessing instead (see: I Peter 3:9). Even if we do choose to require restitution or other measures of accountability toward those who hurt us, we are free to do this without a vindictive or vengeful motives.