I'm in pain. Does God even care that I'm hurting?
I was sixteen and deeply wounded from my first broken heart—barely able to hold back my tears around friends and family. When school ended each day, I retreated to my room, turned off the light, curled up on my bed, and cried until I was called to the dinner table. The ordinary pleasures of teenaged life failed to console me. I couldn’t imagine feeling lighthearted or joyful ever again.
After a week of gloomy despair, I heard a knock at my door. I mumbled, “Come in,” without raising my head. And my dad came in.
He didn’t speak—not at first. He just sat in the dark at the foot of my bed, quietly joining me in my hurt. Every now and then he patted my shoulder or hip, as I lay buried up to my ears in an old quilt. Finally he said, “You don’t believe it now, but you’re going to be okay. And your old Dad loves you no matter what.” He sat awhile longer, gently patted me again, said, “Dinner’s almost ready,” and left.
I still hurt, but I felt a tiny glimmer of hope. Someone got it. Someone cared.
Good dads care when their daughters hurt. But does God care when we are in pain? And if so, how does he show it?
God Faces Evil and Pain Head-On
Some religions seek to explain away the ills of the world. Bad things are attributed to karma, or blamed solely on man’s own misguided actions, or chalked up to God’s inattention.
Not so with Christianity. It does not sugarcoat the evil in the world: “When the world tells us, as it does, that everyone has a right to a life that is easy, comfortable, and relatively pain-free, a life that enables us to discover, display, and deploy all the strengths that are latent within us, the world twists the truth right out of shape.”1
Jesus’ worldview was very different. He pulled no punches: “In this world you will have trouble.”2 Yet he didn’t leave it there. He encouraged his followers: “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”3
God Offers Well-Timed Comfort
God doesn’t deny that we live in a world deeply marred and broken. Instead he draws closer and enters into it with us. “There is a crack in everything,” wrote Canadian poet and musician Leonard Cohen. “That’s how the light gets in.”4
Our hurts can become the very places where we meet God and experience the intimacy of his comforting presence. “When you pass through the waters,” he says, “I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers they will not sweep over you.”5
God doesn’t promise deliverance from or avoidance of all pain. He does not always intervene to keep us far from hurt or harm. But in the times when we do hurt, he comforts us in the midst of our troubles.
Sometimes he bolsters us through the kindness of others. Sometimes he brings a sense of peace that we could never conjure or sustain on our own. Sometimes, through a glimpse of beauty or a well-timed word of encouragement, he reassures us that we’re going to be okay, that we are loved.
God’s Creation Testifies to His Care
You may not believe that God is the creator of this world. But every creation reflects its creator—so if he is creator, this creation reflects his character. And the created world demonstrates incredible care and attention to detail.
Plants contain seeds and naturally reproduce themselves. Seasons change, guaranteeing that the harsh conditions of winter and summer don’t last too long. Spring and autumn give us room to recover and readjust. Flesh wounds naturally heal—cuts scab over, and the body’s cells replenish themselves without our help or attention. Children grow and develop within their mothers' wombs, unseen to the naked eye until the miracle of birth.
In these ways (and thousands more!) God loves and attends to his creation. And if we are the highest order of that creation, doesn’t it stand to reason that he attends to us, as well? Consider what Jesus said: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”6
God Has Skin in the Game
The greatest reason we have to believe in God’s love and care for us is the incarnation. God, seeing all that was broken in the world—all the sin, all the sadness—personally intervened. But he didn’t just send a message; he sent his son.
Jesus became human and was specially commissioned by God to enter into our hurting world: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,” Jesus said, “because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.”7
In other words, God saw our greatest, eternal dilemma (separation from him), felt love and compassion for us, and demonstrated that love: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”8
In the person of Jesus, God got personally involved. Like a good father, he says to those who hurt and look to him for help: “You may not know it now, but you’re going to be okay . . . and your Dad loves you very much.”