Surviving or Thriving: Hopeless Comfort
Let me introduce you to my Mum.
If you’d have met her three years ago you would have met a woman full of joy. She loved Jesus, she loved her family, she loved everyone she met (and would frequently be over an hour shopping for milk because she’d started talking to a stranger and ended up hearing their whole life story). She gave her time to people, listening to them and sharing the good news about Jesus with them at the same time. We were incredibly close.
If you were to meet her now, you might not immediately notice the difference. On the surface and in public she can look quite the same. But to her family, the change is undeniable. Over the past few years, she has suffered from several physical illnesses, one after the other, leaving her with the worst depression and anxiety she's ever had. She has been in and out of a psychiatric unit and has suffered from suicidal thoughts. But for us the most distressing change has been that, in her illness, she has become convinced that God has given up on her, that the fear she feels day-to-day is because of his rejection of her and that she has no hope of being forgiven her sins.
Her illness has taken away the comfort that the gospel of grace brings.
I have days where I feel like I’m grieving the loss of my mother, where I feel like I'm being more a mother to her and she the daughter. There are days where I'm in denial and am hardly affected. I love the rare days where she’s able to talk about things other than her illness and it feels a little like having her back.
I've had a lot of questions and struggles while she's been ill. Is God really working this for good? Why won’t God change the situation? If he can hear her crying out to him in distress, why doesn’t he answer straight away? Can he really love her and let her suffer so much? What if...?
I've come to realise that my comfort in all this isn't necessarily from getting an answer to my every question, but in knowing the character of the God I can turn to in the middle of the mess.
These are some of the truths about him that have comforted me most:
1. God is sovereign.
Sometimes we wish God's sovereignty would equal immediate action in whatever way we think would be best. But the story of the Israelites in Egypt is really helpful. God allows them to suffer for 400 years as slaves, yet all the time he is concerned for them and hears their cries to him (Exodus 2:23-25). He even told them in advance that this would happen because he was being merciful to another nation (Genesis 15:13-16). He is not a cruel God, who delights in my mum's suffering.
He is merciful and personally concerned, wanting everyone to be saved and know him.
And sometimes he allows us to suffer as a part of his plan which he's working out across all of history.
2. God knows us.
Psalm 139 is full of comfort, reminding us how intimately God knows us; the One who made us knows us completely. Every thought, every word spoken, everywhere we go. But also every day that we would live through;
‘all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be’ (v16).
How much of a comfort, God knows and has always known what would happen with my mum, and how I would respond!
3. God loves us.
I wanted proof that God could love someone and let them suffer, because it didn't seem to make sense. But look at Jesus, the very one about whom God said ‘this is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3:17b). He suffered death on a cross at the hands of sinful men.
And God allowed this to happen for you, and for me, so that we could be his children. I am so thankful for our God who saves through suffering, who sympathises with our weaknesses and pain, who is faithful and will not leave us.