Somewhere along the line, we have come to believe in the notion that expressing (negative) emotion heavenward is contradictory to Christianity. If we voice even a speck of doubt, we’re regarded as a heretic deconstructing the faith. Those sorts of feelings, we are often told, are antithetical to the evangelical faith. But such thinking does nothing to relieve a sufferer, leaving no room for those battling the sweeping effects of depression to wrestle with what they believe.
Doubt is a natural byproduct of suffering. I would even say that to be human is to doubt. And while some wish to crush such notions, the gospel is no cruel thing. It is deep and wide enough to cover all our trembling uncertainties. Belief doesn’t necessarily prohibit doubt. Faith is not a forcefield against suffering, after all. The gospel does not make us into emotionless automatons. Indeed, the Bible is teeming with religious folk who are real, honest, and vulnerable with God about their situation, and their emotions in that situation.
“Scripture,” writes Paul Tripp insightfully, “never looks down on the sufferer, it never mocks his pain, it never turns a deaf ear to his cries, and it never condemns him for his struggle. It presents to the sufferer a God who understands, who cares, who invites us to come to him for help, and who promises one day to end all suffering of any kind once and forever” (23–24).
The God who hears is the God who intervenes in all our suffering by the power of his Word. He takes up residence in our agony and sorrow.
The essence of faith, then, is a belief in a God who values suffering enough to listen to it — as the late columnist for The Washington Post Michael Gerson put it, it’s like staking your life on “the rumor of grace.” Indeed, the gospel’s announcement of mercy beyond our wildest imagination whispers to us in our moments of trial, reminding us of what is true, of what is real. Though we may doubt its reality, the gospel’s offering is no immaterial thing. “Jesus is never intimidated by our doubts,” writes Daniel Hochhalter, “no matter how silly or unacceptable they may seem to others. Instead, he meets us in the midst of them” (137).
The God who hears is the God who intervenes in all our suffering by the power of his Word. He takes up residence in our agony and sorrow. He sets up his office when we’re at our wits’ end, whatever that may look like. This he does because he is forever mindful of desperate people. The heart of God beats with relief for despondent sufferers, no matter what form that suffering takes. “It’s simply ‘vintage Yahweh,’” Dale Ralph Davis says, “to stoop down into his servants’ nasty circumstances and put fresh heart into them” (117).
Our world is like a kaleidoscope of heartache. We are all variously affected by a variety of hardships (James 1:2). Grief, to be sure, isn’t a “one size fits all” sort of deal. It’s like a snowflake. But God’s blessed and everlasting assurance is that in all our seasons of suffering — whatever they may be, whatever they might look like — he is there with us. He puts a premium on suffering, such that it is the preeminent way in which we are introduced to who God is.
This is an excerpt from part two of Finding God in the Darkness: Hopeful Reflections from the Pits of Depression, Despair, and Disappointment by Bradley Gray (1517 Publishing, 2023).