Last week, a few of my close friends went through some pretty painful circumstances. One just ended a long-term relationship, another is struggling with parental rejection, and the last is still reeling from a death in the family.
As I’ve listened to some of the encouragement people have shared with these friends, one statement in particular stuck out. It went something like this: “It’s OK; I know God has a purpose in all this,” or something to that effect.
I have issues with these kinds of statements for two main reasons:
1. It’s insensitive and invalidating.
Don’t get me wrong. I have often been guilty of saying these things too. This went on until a friend who’s a professional counselor showed me that I was effectively saying that the grieving person shouldn’t feel the pain because there’s a greater purpose at work.
Greater purpose or not, that pain is still real. And we shouldn’t make someone feel even worse — perhaps even guilty — for a lack of faith or perspective, for experiencing that very real hurt. That’s why Paul tells us to “weep with those who weep” in Romans 12:15.
However, over the last week, I’ve come to a new understanding of why these statements are harmful.
2. The fact that God can redeem our pain doesn’t justify it.
Yes, God allows pain, but that doesn’t mean He likes it. Sure, we can learn and grow from it, yet from the beginning, it was never God’s intention for us to mature through scars and broken dreams. God created the world flawless and without sin. And I think He intended to teach us things and help us grow only through positive means like encouragement, discipleship, teaching and good examples.
Sometimes we run the risk of misusing scriptures like, “[W]e know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28, ESV). This truth speaks of God’s ability to redeem our sufferings and trials. But it doesn’t mean that pain is justified or approved in heaven simply because God can use it to help us grow — that’s not the God we serve.
Yes, when sufferings come, we should strive to grow from them, just as we should strive to grow from loving parental guidance or legitimate pastoral teaching. Yet the fact that we can grow from suffering doesn’t change how painful circumstances can be. It’s not “OK” — it’s horrible and makes you feel miserable. Our loving, heavenly Father doesn’t wish that on us, nor does He want it for us. But He can and does redeem it.
That’s the hope and the truth. Painful situations stink, yet Jesus knows how you feel. Sufferings will come, and that’s horrible. But God will redeem them in more ways than we can imagine on this side of heaven. Your grief, hurt and agony are real, and so are the love, peace and grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
So no, I don’t think our pain is “OK” to God, and thus it shouldn’t be to us. I think it grieves Him, even if He knows how to work it out for our good in the long run.