I think one of the hardest conversations to have with people is how God uses tragedy and pain. To a point, people willingly accept the way struggles make us stronger. When a struggle crosses the line into pain, though, people start asking questions. Add to the conversation that a loving God allowed the pain to happen and people start to balk.

The idea that God uses human pain for his purposes is plainly disturbing and confusing. For many this is faith’s breaking point. I think the only salve to the dilemma is God entering humanity and experiencing it himself. This God-as-practitioner reality doesn’t answer every question, but does give us credence to say, “At least he knows.”

We have to figure out to talk about this. When life is humming for people, bringing God into the equation by bringing up the God from whom all blessings flow, usually doesn’t have much impact. But when tragedy strikes, you can’t keep God out of the conversation, even if you tried. It is fascinating how easy it is to factor God out of life when things are good, and impossible to factor him out when things aren’t.

When word came to Jesus that one of his best buds was sick, Jesus promptly framed the situation as to how God would use this tragedy for his purposes (John 11:4). Jesus didn’t try to soften the blow of a painful reality or help God save face. When the disciples, taking cues from Jesus really, then downplayed the matter, Jesus linked his friend’s eventual death to work God wanted to do in them (John 11:12-15).

The whole episode became an example of people reacting to what they felt was happening to them. The reality was what God wanted to do in them. Something happening to us versus happening in us makes all the difference. If we can’t figure out how to talk to people about this difference, we probably won’t be much help.

The disciples thought they were going to be put in danger (v.16). The sisters thought their pain could have been avoided if Jesus wouldn’t have procrastinated (v.21). Even the bystanders felt they had to deal with what was happening to them, being given a reason to doubt (v.37). Jesus was the only one that understood God wasn’t doing something to them, but was working something in them (v.42 and 45).

Sometimes tragedy and pain is the best entry point for God to come in and work. C.S. Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” When we see tragedy and pain as something happening to us, it’s easy to lose faith. When we see it as a place God can work in us, God builds our faith.

Title Signature Screenshot Cartoon 2015