Sometimes brokenness, tragedy, and suffering are just words. Empty and meaningless.
Other times, they have a face and name—a heart and life behind them.
On February 15th, as I drove to work, each word took on form as I heard on the radio about the horrific school shooting in Florida. Yet again, devastation and heartbreak personified.
Tragedy upon tragedy heaped themselves in my mind. The hurricanes, fires, and earthquakes last year, the atrocious shootings in Las Vegas and Texas, and every other tragedy that hadn’t made the headlines, but I know had still happened.
For a moment I almost let my heart harden against it. After all, another shooting, another headline, it’ll be forgotten soon by those not affected by it, or replaced with something else. Why even take the time to care? Why put my heart through unnecessary pain when it doesn’t even affect me?
But then I remembered, it might not affect me, but it does affect someone. Somewhere there’s a teenager whose life was unfairly snatched away. Somewhere there’s a mother who’s child was murdered. Somewhere there’s a father who couldn’t stop the gunman, but would have laid down his life trying. Somewhere there’s a brother, sister, grandmother, grandfather, best friend, who didn’t ask to be handed this grief, but is dealing with it anyway. Somewhere there’s someone who desperately needs to know there’s still hope, still something worth living for.
Pulling into the parking lot, I remembered the words I’d written to a friend, “It absolutely breaks my heart when I see those around me suffering and asking questions like ‘Why won’t God stop it when he can?’ While I’ll never have an answer to that question, he’s shown me no suffering is purposeless.”
I scoffed at those words, written in faith, my heart now breaking. How could this possibly have a purpose? How could this be anything but the worst sort of evil, unfairly wreaked upon innocent and unsuspecting lives?
Now, after the initial shock, I still know it’s just that—unimaginable evil.
Later, praying and struggling, I whispered a prayer that didn’t make much sense at the time.
Lord, please don’t let it be wasted.
Our world is full of suffering. It’s the cost of living, the result of our initial sin and rebellion, and the free will given to us by God. It’s impossible to live without experiencing heartache to some degree. But God in his mercy and sovereignty, put in place a plan of redemption, so that one day every heart will be mended, every tear dried, every sufferer comforted in the arms of the Comforter.
On earth, pain is inevitable. But here’s my radical hope.
God can use it.
He might not always stop, fix, or erase it, but he can use it. And what’s more, I pray he does.
He can use a story of heartbreak to be words of hope.
He can use pain to bring healing.
He can take devastation and make it the catalyst for revival.
That doesn’t mean he causes suffering, or even that it makes up for the pain or loss. No amount of good can ever erase sorrow.
But it does mean it won’t be wasted.
A small, trite comfort to those in the midst of suffering, but a challenge to all of us watching.
Do we pass it by, afraid of letting it enter our hearts like I did at first? Do we respond with a weak, “That’s too bad” or “What a shame” or even an insincere, “I’ll be praying”?
Or do we let it change us? Move us? Let it lead us to intercede with urgency and passion, pleading to God for healing and restoration? Let it make us lay down our own comfort, agenda, bitterness, or anger to bring hope to another? Do we let it unite us; cause us to join hands and hearts as we reach out with compassion?
Do we allow God to move through our response and show the world that Jesus is alive and active and the all-encompassing flame of our hearts?
Do we fervently cry, “God, break my heart for what breaks yours”?
It’s our job, church. To reach out and love with our lives. To kneel down and love with our prayers. To open our mouths and love with our words. To never stop showing love however God leads us, as we watch, wait, and work until that day when Jesus comes back and ends all this utter madness.
To be entirely honest, I don’t understand the suffering in the world. Never have, probably never will. And I can’t just slap a Band-Aid over a wound so deep.
I don’t understand why God allows mass shootings to take place and lives to be taken.
I don’t know why he doesn’t heal the woman who discovered she has cancer yet again, or why he doesn’t bring relief to the girl suffering from chronic illness year after year.
I don’t know why families are divided or hearts broken, why sickness comes, or loved ones die.
In my frail human intellect, I point to sin, our imperfect world, the rebellion of individuals as the cause.
But in my faith, I can point to Jesus as the cure.
Because even if I never understand on this earth, I believe with utmost certainty, one day I will know and understand. And I’ll be able to worship him in his sovereignty with the full knowledge that indeed, he is good, and was good, and will continue to be good, even if the circumstances around us are anything but.
So my challenge and call to you is: How do you respond to the suffering around you?
Please, don’t let it be wasted.