Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds (Hosea 6:1)
Thanks to a broken heart, I have recently met with the God who wounds. The God who gives and takes away. Who is this God?
Our understanding of suffering gets sticky when we try to hold together God’s goodness and his sovereignty. We hear that ‘in all things God works for the good of those who love him’ (Romans 8:28) but what is ‘good’ when we are left bruised? We happily sit with images of God as provider, comforter and saviour. We also know that the world is broken and sin is responsible. But often, there is no space left in this worldview for a sovereign God. If God is not responsible for the suffering in our lives, then he is not in control and cannot really be God. Yet, we feel uncomfortable with the idea of a good God inflicting pain on his people. The Bible, however, does not feel uncomfortable with this idea. Praise God that he is far greater than our fragile understanding of him.
We feel uncomfortable with the idea of a good God inflicting pain on his people. Praise God that he is far greater than our fragile understanding of him.
In the Psalms, David seems fully aware of who has afflicted him, ‘You have taken from me friend and neighbour—darkness is my closest friend’ (Psalm 88:18). In 2 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul begs God to remove the ‘thorn in his flesh’, which supposes God’s role in suffering as much more than a compassionate bystander. This is where the specifics of our theology are important. If we understand that God is good and cannot do anything that is not good, then even in the depths of suffering—he is still good. God weeps over the state of this world, and walks with us in our suffering, but he is still in control. The goodness of God does not undermine our pain. But, there is good in suffering because there is God in suffering. Two months ago, in an instant, everything crumbled. My future, my home and my greatest earthly desire were taken by the God who gives and takes away. My theology of suffering was put to the test as I encountered the God who wounds. Here is what that God has taught me as doctrine has become reality:
1. My definition of ‘good’ is wrong.
The reason verses such as Romans 8:28, which promise Christians ‘good’, seem to jar with our experiences is because we don’t really know what good is. In the Bible, good isn’t a longed-for marriage. It isn’t a comfortable home, a great job or even a faithful church family. Good is God’s name being glorified and his Kingdom advancing. Good is God’s people being made holy and learning to trust in him more. God’s ultimate purpose is to glorify himself and he will not be thwarted. So, when pain seems pointless, the God who wounds shows me that it is good. The God who wounds has done this for his glory, to grow my reliance on him, to make me more like Jesus and to have his name proclaimed. That is good.
2. I rejoice that he is King and I am not.
The very moment that I felt the earthly building blocks of my life started to topple, I instantly became more aware of my unshakable foundation. Not even the most steadfast of pleasures on earth will last, all things are sustained only by God’s sovereign will. When a huge wave crashes over you, knocking the wind from your lungs, the ocean seems deserving of awe. When God acts as the sovereign King, even when it is painful, he is worthy of awe. The God who wounds has taught me to rejoice in his might and my eternal safety in him.
When a huge wave crashes over you the ocean seems deserving of awe. When God acts as sovereign, even when it is painful, he is worthy of awe. The God who wounds has taught me to rejoice in his might.
3. I am weak but he is strong.
As a little girl, my Dad used to sing me to sleep with the words, ‘Yes, Jesus loves me. I am weak but he is strong’. My weakness has never been more evident to me. In the face of loss, it is easy to feel like there is somehow less of me. In a way, this is true. There is less confidence in my own ability, less hope in fleeting joys, less reliance on my own strength. But, there is more of Him. That lullaby is a paraphrase of Paul’s conclusion after his previously mentioned lament in 2 Corinthians 12, ‘For when I am weak, then I am strong’. John 3:30 says, ‘He must become greater; I must become less’. This is what the God who wounds has to say to me. He reminds me that I have nothing to offer him and calls me to rely on him alone.
4. The God who wounds became wounded.
The God who wounds wounded himself so that we never have to suffer the pain we deserve. Isaiah 53:5 says:
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
In Christ, God took our wounds upon himself. This means that when he wounds, we can be sure he does it in love and not anger, because we are his now counted as his children. If his ultimate act of love was his Son’s death on a cross, then, when we suffer, we know it runs in the family. God knows what it is to suffer, more than we will ever know. The God who wounds has not only suffered for us, but has become the solution to all suffering and will, one day, usher in the age of tearlessness (Revelation 21:4).
If his ultimate act of love was his Son’s death on a cross, then, when we suffer, we know it runs in the family.
On Sunday, my pastor preached on Genesis 32, when Jacob wrestles with God. In this encounter, Jacob asks God for a blessing and in return, God dislocates his hip. For Jacob, this is a lesson in reliance on the sovereign God who wounds. This blessing comes with a limp. Much like Jacob, I have been blessed with a limp. The God who wounds continues to teach me that he in control, and I am not. The God who wounds is ‘gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love’ (Psalm 145:8). He is the very same God who heals our wounds by his own. If you desire to feel his compassion, know his strength and see his glory in your weakness—get to know the God who wounds.