When Life Hurts: A Discussion of Pain and the Christian Walk
Pastor Mike Novotny of The CORE church in Wisconsin speaks freely about pain and what we really need to focus on.
Why is there pain? Why would good God allow suffering?
Pastor Mike Novotny’s newest book, When Life Hurts: How To See Through Suffering, started as a sermon series on the book of Job in his Wisconsin church.
“As I was preparing for that series, I had a chance to reach out to different people and ask them questions about ‘When has life hurt, how did it affect your view of God? Did you run to him or run away from him? Did you question his love or were you so grateful that he still loved you even when things were broken?'”
The Classic Existential Question
Pastor Mike studied Job at length, trying to understand the classic existential personal question. “You know, ‘Why, if God is good, if God can do all things, why am I going through this?’ Or, ‘Why doesn’t my prayer change it? Or why aren’t things changing?’ So, I love that the Bible just records [that] he was a really good man who had a really great faith, and yet he also went through great pain. It wasn’t because he was bad, it wasn’t because he didn’t pray enough. He was doing all the right things. So why do things like that happen? And Job’s just a really honest look at moments like that.”
Job acknowledged that God has the right to give and to take away. It’s important not to act like a spoiled child who says, “mine,” but to recognize God’s sovereign right to act in ways He knows are best. “How do you do that?” asked Pastor Mike. “Like, how are you okay with that when He takes instead of gives? You know, my simplest answer is you come to trust God more and more, the more you sit in front of a cross and think about it.”
God Understands Pain and Suffering
God understands. Jesus went through unimaginable darkness and pain, not for His sake, but ours. “If here is a God who is completely fine on His own in Heaven, but He left Heaven to come to earth for me and my salvation, well this is a God I can trust. … [T]he cross just answered all those questions in such an emphatic way that how can God not be for me? How could He not want what’s best for me? Yet, here He is, giving up everything so I could have every, every spiritual gift through His Son.”
Understanding Who God Is
Sometimes we ask “why?” when we should be focused on understanding who God is and what we do know. God doesn’t answer every question. Many times our questions go unanswered. “[T]here’s no ladder tall enough that we can get to Heaven and ask God to give us some answers. So, we have to walk by faith and not by sight.” Pastor Mike grew up in a church that stressed that people should not “waste too much of your time trying to figure out what God hasn’t revealed. Invest most of your time in trying to figure out what God has revealed.” Pastor Mike continued:
You want a why — I’m sorry, but God hasn’t revealed that. I would love to know why you struggled with fertility or why your dad passed away or why you went through that 10 years ago, or why the relationship didn’t work out. I don’t blame you for asking that question, but let’s just be honest. God hasn’t answered it.
So, what are you going to do now? Are you gonna keep pounding on the door that He hasn’t opened? Are you gonna waste the rest of your years in bitterness demanding an answer from God? He didn’t give one to Job and the honest answer is, He’s probably not going to give one to you. So I would say it’s hard. I say this with compassion, but don’t focus on the why. Focus on the Who. Focus on the Redeemer, the Savior, the Creator, the Father who loves you because of the gospel.
Continue to Praise and Pray
So what’s the answer? Keep praising.
“As I look back, what I was struck by is that every time you pray or sing a hymn or open your Bible or go to church when life is hard, it says something really profound about the genuineness of your faith.
“The premise of the Book of Job is Satan saying, ‘Job doesn’t really love you, God, he is just doing what he has to do to get stuff from you. But when you still love God when He takes something from you, it proves that you really love God. You didn’t love the gift, you love the giver. You didn’t love the stuff, you love the Savior.
“As a pastor, as I’m standing up front looking at people who are dealing with cancer or a breakup or struggling with mental health anxiety or depression, yet here they still are and they’re singing these songs with me — there is something beautiful about that kind of faith that’s not using God, but really, really deeply believes He is worthy of my praise and my worship.”
A Beautiful Faith
“So that’s my number one takeaway from the book of Job, from the series, from the book that I wrote — that pain proves something really beautiful that an easy, simple life could not: that we truly do love God deep in our hearts.”
Nancy Flory, Ph.D., is a senior editor at The Stream. You can follow her @NancyFlory3, and follow The Stream @Streamdotorg.