Often the topic of how God governs all things comes up in parish life during suffering and struggles. Questions will arise about God being the cause of something (sin is the cause of this damned mess), allowing something (as if He is distant from things and is often merely wordplay), or even sending something. This is of course a difficult topic, and it deserves much attention in the lives of Christians who indeed will suffer in this life.
Recently I had a opportunity to sing and meditate upon one of my favorite hymns, “Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me” (LSB 756, but if you want a longer version check out TLH, although an even older English version includes even more stanzas to it [truncation of hymns is bad hymnal practice and often reflects a desire to avoid the hard stuff]. There are several points in the hymn where Gerhardt lays even sadness and suffering squarely at God’s feet as the one who sends them.
Is God sending sadness or suffering such horrible news? From one point, suffering sucks. Life in a fallen world is not fun, no matter how much we think we have advanced or progressed, in the end the fallen world catches up with us and grabs hold of us. Sometimes it is at death, more than often it is during a time of great trial or suffering. Then all of the fake gods have to move aside, all of the petty idolatries we have set up for ourselves show their powerlessness to maintain our good life. At that point it is only God and us who are left and it appears we will not last long. So what is wrong with saying that God sent suffering?
Nothing. I don’t want to endure suffering that happens by chance or by some distant God allowing it and watching on. I don’t want the cliche which tries to paint a rosy picture in a fallen world. I don’t want a theoretical or philosophy daydream of a god. I don’t want anything other than the God who I know, or more importantly Who knows me. He has to be the one to lay down a heavy cross or burden upon me. Why? Because I know that God, for He has revealed Himself to me as a God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who is slow to anger, merciful, compassionate, abounding in steadfast love – the God who in the Son gave Himself up for my temporal and eternal benefit. The God I want pushing down on my flesh is the very same one who gave up His flesh for me and still feeds the same along with His blood to me each week. The God I want sending the waters over every last bridge and breaking the dams in my life has to be the very same God who baptized me and claimed me as His own. The God I want to receive a cross from has to be the One who endured the cross and now sits at the right hand of the Father. The God I want to hear words of sorrow from is the God who has spoken to us by His Son, a man of sorrows and well knowing of grief. This God is with me, the God named Immanuel (God with us), Jesus.
If my suffering is not from Him, that same God who baptizes, preaches, teaches, and feeds – then who can know my suffering or bring relief to it? If it is by chance, then by chance I will come out of this. If it is only allowed by God, then I suppose maybe He will allow relief? If it is sent by Him – the very God of very God who cared for my life and well-being more than anyone else ever could, then I suppose there is something greater to it. If it is sent by THAT God, then it can be somehow good (What God ordains is always good). This is a matter of faith, of trust – but there is no one except the Triune God who deserves such trust, even when He sends sadness.
So as you experience suffering, trial, sadness, loss, and all of the various other crosses which come in this life take heart – God your loving Savior sends them. He has been faithful to you for all of your days up to now, and He will not leave you now either.