Pain & suffering. Faithful response.
8 Feb 2021

People from Church have been outstanding to me post-accident on every level. Their support through my medical difficulty has been of emotional, practical and spiritual significance. I don’t think I’d be here without so much prayer on my behalf. Others have not been so well blessed in their time of need.

I’m not back to normal yet. Fatigue, anxiety, hearing, sight… I’ve learned much about how the brain manages and prioritises information from damaged senses -even when damaged itself.

I am finding it challenging to connect during online group bible study -even when the computer can. The problem and fault is with me, not others. I get too easily frustrated by some of the things I hear, including from myself.

I sometimes feel that Christians have a small box of approved statements to draw from. We spend too much time applying these phrases to infinitely diverse contexts.

I may have been blessed by my fellowship, but what should Christians say to others in their periods of pain and suffering. There is a lot of it around right now.

It is hard, impossible even, to get this consistently right and it’s easy to default to churchy phrases that exacerbate difficulties. Chapter 1 of “Where is God When it Hurts?” by Phillip Yancey exemplifies this excruciatingly well.  I was given this excellent book after prayer with someone I did not know at Naturally Supernatural.

As an adult after a few teaching jobs and time as deputy headteacher, I worked as a local authority teacher adviser for information technology. I received a mobile phone. I knew they were around, but I’d never had one. It was amazing and it could even be used to ring up real phones. (Thanks Rob) Things change so quickly. Some things!

Surely we are more advanced than Job’s comforters today? But seriously, have we learned anything from the Old Testament, which remains real and relevant today?

In discussion with Christians I have been too focused on restricting myself to phrases and ideas that I perceive to be acceptable. In my recent Theodicy post, I use wordplay, “the odd you see” and further wrote, “There is tension between our focus on seeing the odd, and our need to focus on seeing our God.”

This might be right, true and even presentational; but is it helpful and easy to achieve when struggling with Theodicy tensions? Is pain and suffering a mistake in creation if God is good? Is this even an acceptable question to ask? What would others think of me if I said that out loud? Oops, done it!

How can you find God in tough times? Are we always honest with ourselves when with other Christians? Dare we say something heartfelt and drawn from real world experience if it’s beyond the scope of our list of -phrases approved for use in public? Too risky?

I’ll just use a “best fit” statement from my approved list of well-known and regularly repeated statements.


  • the person I am speaking to just needs to be more accepting of God.
  • they don’t have enough faith to improve in the “right” way.
  • they are being punished or tested by God.
  • he is teaching them to be patient…

Maybe I should share all of my “maybe” thoughts with them, so I don’t have to answer any difficult questions myself.

Well, maybe.

The need for honesty has come to the fore for me in relation to suffering and God?

I’ve attended a few Soul Survivors and thought Mike Pilavachi a great speaker for the youth, including my now adult children. Imagine my surprise to find his book, “Wasteland? Encountering God In The Desert” completely connecting. I’m 52! It’s an honest and helpful reflection to read during a difficult, frustrating and detached post-accident period of change. (Thanks John)

I’m walking alone often feeling misunderstood and unfairly treated in my desert. I confuse even myself. I overthink everything. Mental health seems to be an issue following traumatic brain injury.

“Wasteland” has been a challenging book, but the challenges make sense expressed by someone you can connect with as having been there, with understanding of the place you are in.

Many people have desert experiences, but we don’t talk about them that much as Christians or in church. There is a real context to Christian “Good News” which is vital to grasp to understand why our news is so good. There are many struggling in the desert, particularly during this pandemic. “Normal” suffering is still there too, exacerbated.

The bible has so much to offer on suffering, well beyond the book of Job. We are reminded that the well-educated and royally cultured Moses had a change of heart in the desert. From murderer with power and status, to someone able to work with God despite lacking confidence and having difficulty with words. At this point, God could use him.

God’s rescued people needed 40 years circling in the desert to be ready for their promised land.

A Christian persecutor became apostle Paul, changed by a blinding incident of change and he continued with a thorn in his side, periods in prison, whippings, travelling accidents (boat not bike)… He was used mightily by God as evident in the majority of the New Testament.

Jesus post baptism was quickly led to a desert and 40 days of Devilling challenge and suffering too. I think sometimes church bias focusses on the wonderful baptism, a union of trinity, with God the father publicly proclaiming delight in His Son whilst the spirit visibly (like a dove) aligns. This was more than theatre.

Christian life is not all party, ecstasy and loud praise that sometimes draws more attention to people than to God. Joy is an easier thing for church to sell. A real coin has real value and two sides. 

I’ve lost much but started to look away from what I had and who I was. I have a new perspective to try to make sense of now. I hope to be brave enough to know where, then go where, He leads.

I have been in my desert for some time. How long will it be, 40 days, 40 years. I’ve only done 2 and a bit years. Symptoms are not the illness but can alert us to what needs to be done in response to the real problem. My hope is that my struggles may redirect me to the change required to be closer to God’s purpose.

Future hope? Could desert struggles make me more effective, more aware, more grateful. Family and friends are now known to be priceless and are more appreciated than anything else.

Pain before pleasure can enhance the pleasure. Relaxation after exercise. The refreshing taste of chilled juice after a hot dry and dusty walk -in the desert. Spiritual experiences can be enhanced in the desert.

Are all of our celebrities happy or fulfilled? The news I watch would suggest otherwise. Too much comfort can numb our senses and ability to enjoy and experience the world around us.

How many people need alcohol and recreational drugs to find pleasure today? We try to over stimulate to get beyond the numb, endlessly connected to screens (what do we do with phones now?) and endless music via headphones… but for what? Matthew 10:39 might help here.

Pain and pleasure -connected. The best pleasure is natural and often comes from context, such as painful hard work, rather than internet and delivery driver. I’m about to become a Grandad. Childbirth is a great illustration -Jesus got there first, John 16:21-24.

I could get out of this desert more aware, stronger and with a clearer focus on the world and what is important in life, for life. I’ve learned more about my own backdoor through exercise during lockdown. The Covid 19 battle has been described as a war and the news showed World War 2 veterans remember the blitz with nostalgia. They’d learned the importance of togetherness and common goals through enormous difficulty. A strengthened and real purpose. Nelson Mandela?…

Our reactions can be impulsive and lack any conscious cognition. Immediate response to pain and shock can prevent serious damaged. We were created to rely on far more than intelligence -thank goodness.

Those with the highest academic ability are not always the most successful in life. There are multiple intelligences.

Emotional intelligence might relate to how we understand and manage emotional experiences, but I’m starting to see emotion and intelligence as two quite different forces, emotion often being the stronger.

Some intelligences are also immeasurable or even without label despite their value. Spiritual intelligence?

Are we narrowly educated because our assessment systems focus on the select minority of intelligences that lead to qualifications? My view is that quality education, preparation for life, is far broader than the examinable.

Sometimes there are no easy answers to problems and silence might be better than even the most intellectual of remarks offered without experience.

I’ve learned that the highly intelligent and super articulate CS Lewis wrote, “The Problem of Pain” a very differently toned tome to, “A Grief Observed” written later after some painful personal experience and published under a pseudonym.

Many people will need the support I was blessed to receive when we all try to move on from such a wide range of powerful Covid 19 experiences.

Will Christians and church be willing or even able to support? How will we welcome others into church and out of their desert? I have more questions than answers.

I need to stop trying to be the best to seek praise for myself. Desire for acceptance per se can be a damaging and a false facade. This may be counter cultural in a world of celebrity. I don’t want to be the best by copying a false reality.

It is easier to look with jealous envy at the successful with plenty of money and attention, than it is to compare ourselves to those with needs far greater than our own. Beyond my self-centred thoughts and new disabled label, I know there are others contending with far greater difficulty.

I need to continually strive to be better, not the best, motivated by the desire to bring honour to the deserving one, not me.

For God to use me to offer his demonstrable love compassionately, would be an enormous privilege. I think there can be more sustained pleasure in giving than receiving. I hope I can get there and live it.

Like Jesus, Paul and Moses, I now need to move from a period of success and go where he leads, even if that is a place of challenge.

The greatest message I can receive from God is, “Go, and I will be with you.”

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