Balm for Tattered Hearts: Walking with God through Pain & Suffering

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After a year that feels oddly like we’ve all walked into an episode of the Twilight Zone, Harold Senkbeil’s Christ and Calamity: Grace and Gratitude in the Darkest Valley—which just won the 2021 Christianity Today Award of Merit in the Beautiful Orthodoxy category—is like the balm of Gilead (Jer 8:22) on our tattered hearts. 

Tim Patrick, principal of the Bible College of South Australia, writes of this timely resource that it “drips with loving empathy and radiates a kind calmness as it reminds us that Christ is not absent from our suffering, but profoundly in it with us and for us.”

Enjoy this excerpt from chapter 8 of Christ and Calamity as we look forward with hope and trust in the One who “sees clearly in the dark” and who will hold us safe through it all.

***

What should we do when the future is uncertain and faith seems futile? When God seems far away? What can we do when fear takes over and sorrow overwhelms us? Where can we find light in our own dark nights?

The psalmist guides our way. King David voices the anguished cry of every suffering saint who has ever wondered if God is absent:

Where shall I go from your Spirit?

Or where shall I flee from your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, you are there!

If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

If I take the wings of the morning

and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

even there your hand shall lead me,

and your right hand shall hold me. 

(Psalm 139:7–10)

God is present everywhere, even when our human eyes do not detect him. Though we cannot see him, he sees us. Were we to climb to the heights of heaven, descend to the depths of hell, or fly away to the farthest seas, his gracious presence would still be there. Even when we feel abandoned, he is present with us every moment of every day. 

In stormy seas of uncertainty and deep, dark valleys of despair, when we sense nothing but fear and dread, his hand still leads and his love still supports us. Through every long and lonely night of misery God himself stands guard, holding us safe and secure. Darkness is no threat to him.

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,

and the light about me be night,”

even the darkness is not dark to you;

the night is bright as the day,

for darkness is as light with you. 

(Psalm 139:11–12)

No doubt you’ve had your share of long, dark nights; most Christians have. Grief, or pain, or loss of one sort or another will bring those times of darkness into your life. When you can’t sleep, your body’s telling you your mind is on overload and your heart is breaking. Some nights it’s hard to pray, and when you do it seems like no one’s there to listen. In that darkness, you will feel that God is gone and your own misery is your only company. 

. . .

But remember, we serve a Lord who snatched life from the jaws of death. He brought light into darkness. One Friday afternoon at Calvary, darkness enveloped Jesus while he suffered extreme agony of body, mind, and spirit upon his cross. After three anguished hours of torture, he breathed his last, and his friends took his battered, bloodied body down and buried him in a borrowed tomb. In a physical body—just like ours—Jesus bore our sin and carried our sorrows.

The price of our sins was paid in human flesh and bone, blood, sweat, and tears. Jesus experienced pain like ours. Fear and dread came upon him just like it does on us, and he felt our human anguish with every fiber of his being.

But by his cross and in the death that he died, Christ Jesus brought life and immortality. Three days later he emerged from his grave victorious over death and hell, transforming this world’s darkness into everlasting light.

Although you may spend long hours in anguished prayer wondering if God is even there to hear you, you can be sure that your private darkness is not dark to him. Night is bright as day to him, and darkness is as light (Ps 139:12). He sees clearly in the dark. And you can be sure he will hold you, safe. “He knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him” (Dan 2:22).

When you were baptized you were born again, into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Pet 1:3). Now your life is securely anchored in the living flesh and blood of your crucified Lord. 

. . . 

In the deepest valleys of your life, through every long and dark night, in every trouble, you can call upon Christ Jesus. Pour out your complaints to him. Pray, praise, and give him thanks. His promise stands forever sure: “I am yours and you are mine, and there is nothing that can ever separate me from you or you from me.”1

The post is excerpted from Christ and Calamity by Harold Senkbeil, available now from Lexham Press.

  1. Harold Senkbeil, Christ and Calamity (Lexham Press, Bellingham WA), 2020
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Written by
Jennifer Grisham

Jennifer Grisham is a writer for Faithlife, makers of Logos Bible Software and other tools for churches. She previously served as director of administration at a church and managing editor and administrator for a ministry to worship leaders. Her work has been published by The Gospel Coalition, The Gospel Project, and Doxology & Theology, to name a few.

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Written by Jennifer Grisham