The Hard Questions of Suffering

Beth M. Broom, LPC-S, CCTP-II

When we enter into seasons of suffering, it’s only natural that we begin to ask hard questions. Our minds and hearts are trying to make sense of pain and frustration, so we wonder things like, “Where is God? Why is it taking so long? Are His promises real? What will I do if He doesn’t answer my prayer?” I have definitely asked all these questions, and my counseling clients ask them as well. And these types of questions are not strange or un-Christian. They’re actually written in Scripture by very godly people who didn’t understand why hardship was happening. They are questions directed toward God in faith.

Do you find it surprising that the following words are written by the psalmists?

  • Have you not rejected us, O God? (Psalm 60:10)
  • O God, why do you cast us off forever? (Psalm 74:1)
  • Will the Lord spurn forever and never again be favorable? (Psalm 77:7)
  • Has His steadfast love forever ceased? Are His promises at an end for all time? (Psalm 77:8)
  • Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion? (Psalm 77:9)
  • O Lord, why do you cast my soul away? Who do you hide your face from me? (Psalm 88:14)

My clients are often surprised by these statements, and they are almost always comforted. David, the man after God’s own heart, wrote many of these words. Not only are we allowed to ask the questions, but we are encouraged to come to God with our emotions and thoughts. Saying these things can be part of the process of lament that leads us closer to God, allowing Him to draw near to us with comfort and wisdom. 

But if we refuse to ask the questions and keep our struggles to ourselves, we miss the opportunity to receive. We miss a moment of vulnerability and honesty that our loving God wants us to share with Him. So when I’m walking with people who are suffering, I prompt them to consider the difficult questions that come along with the pain. I invite them to ask their questions out loud. I seek to be patient – I don’t have to supply an answer to the question, because the question is often a plea for God’s comfort and justice, not an argument or theological debate. There will come a time when we may venture into a search for answers to the mystery of suffering, but I can rest in the truth that God is a comforter of the brokenhearted, and I can seek to be the same.

Here are some guiding questions you can ask when a friend or counselee is suffering:

  • What questions do you have related to God’s character and promises in the midst of your suffering?
  • Is it difficult for you to share your questions and frustrations with God? If so, what do you think is the reason for this difficulty?
  • Do you ever feel nervous that your questions might mean your faith is faltering? If so, what leads you to feel this way?
  • Choose one of the psalms listed above to read aloud. Write down what stands out to you from the psalm. What do you notice about the psalmist’s words? What do you relate to, and what may be confusing or difficult to accept?

Keep in mind that not everyone wants to dive into these kinds of questions. It can be really unsettling to explore our frustrations and fears. Even if you’re functioning as a person’s official counselor, you’ll still want to ask permission to enter into this type of discussion. And we should never assume that someone is ready to talk about these things simply because s/he has demonstrated godly character and maturity. I have counseled full-time missionaries and ministers who felt very nervous to talk about their potential doubts related to God’s goodness in the midst of suffering. We must seek to patiently guide the sufferer toward God, asking Him to give us direction and wisdom. And when we are unsure how and when to ask these types of questions, it’s always wise to consult with other counselors who can offer wisdom and support.

The questions listed above have been formatted into a handout that can be given to someone who is suffering. If you’d like to access the handout, click HERE

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