In 1975 the band America had a Top Ten hit, “Lonely People,” the first line of which being, “This is for all the lonely people”. This article is not only for the lonely people, but for all those who have known tears, who have known brokenness, who have known heartache, and have known grief.
That should cover just about everybody. Indeed, suffering is a universal condition. If you think your life has been pain-free so far, spared of any suffering, just hang around a bit longer. It will come. Indeed, as the book of Job declares, “Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward” (5:7).
We all experience hardship, grief, disappointment and loss. For some it is more apparent and horrific, as the current tragedy in Haiti demonstrates. But we all have our fair share of heartache and suffering. This is true of believers and non-believers alike.
Yet sadly, often believers can have a faulty or unbiblical view of suffering. Some even claim that believers should never suffer – except perhaps by persecution. But Scripture throughout informs us that suffering is part and parcel of life for everyone.
Thus we may well need to develop a theology of suffering. It is a topic too many believers shy away from or seek to downplay. Yet the Bible devotes entire books to the topic, such as the already-mentioned book of Job. Thinking biblically about suffering and grief is something we all must be involved in.
While some people may seem to have a greater share of brokenness, pain, and tears than others, we all must deal with the darker aspects of life. Thus I here want to proclaim the good news that God cares greatly about our grief and heartaches.
While Jesus is the clearest and most remarkable demonstration of this fact, even a glimpse of God as revealed in the Old Testament confirms this. This may well shock some opponents of Christianity, and even surprise some Christians. But the same tender-hearted Lord that we know in the New Testament is found in the Old.
Throughout the OT we learn of a loving, compassionate and empathetic God who cares deeply about our grief, and weeps with us in our sorrow. Way back in Genesis for example we read about how God was moved by the plight of young Ishmael.
“God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there’” (21:17). When God hears, he also acts, and he supplied mother and son with water to deal with their immediate need, and then promised them greater things for the long-term future.
We find a similar picture in Exodus. The Israelites were groaning under the slavery of the Egyptians, and we read this: “God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them” (2:24,25).
God is not only responsive to our needs, but he is especially near to the humble, the weak, and the broken-hearted. Plenty of OT passages come to mind here:
2 Kings 22:19 Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the LORD … I have heard you, declares the LORD.
Psalm 18:27 You save the humble but bring low those whose eyes are haughty.
Psalm 25:9 He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.
Psalm 31:7 I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul.
Psalm 34:18 The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Psalm 51:17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
Psalm 138:6 Though the LORD is on high, he looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar.
Isaiah 49:13 Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth; burst into song, O mountains! For the LORD comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.
Isaiah 57:15 For this is what the high and lofty One says – he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite”.
He inhabits our suffering. And little wonder, for our Lord is known as the suffering servant. In one of the servant songs (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) we have a moving description of this servant who knows all about suffering. As 53:3-4 puts it, “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.”
Many other such OT texts could be produced here. One final passage is well worth looking at however. I find it to be one of the most amazing and comforting passages in the entire OT. I refer to Psalm 56:8. As is often the case with Hebrew poetry, there may be some room to move here in translation, so I offer a few versions of this passage:
“Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll – are they not in your record?” (NIV)
“Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?” (KJV)
“You have taken account of my wanderings; Put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your book?” (NASB)
However they are kept, it appears that every one of our tears will be preserved. While obviously an image, it is a very powerful image indeed. It tells us that none of our tears will be wasted. God is aware of every tear we shed, and he takes close account of each one.
All the tears we shed – even those we thought we shed alone, with no one noticing – have in fact been monitored and recorded by a loving heavenly father. All our grief, mourning, anguish and heartache has not gone unnoticed by our Lord. He is fully aware of all our suffering, and no tear is lost or hidden from his view.
Simply being aware of the broken heart of God offers tremendous help to his suffering children. Knowing that in all our grief, he grieves, and in all our sorrow, he sorrows, is a liberating and comforting truth to always hold on to.
No other religious system offers us a God who personally cares about each of us, and is intimately involved in our suffering and pain. Indeed, as a God who has experienced the ultimate loss – the loss of his only son – God is a God of the broken-hearted.
And I have not even begun to mention the many relevant NT texts here. This is the God with whom we have to do. All those who are broken, afflicted, needy and destitute are fully in the eyes and heart of God. He is close to the humble, while he resists the proud.
That is why Jesus could so confidently assert, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matt 5:3-5).
What tremendous hope the Christian gospel offers. While in this world we will have plenty of tribulation and hardship, we have the promise that God will be with us in our afflictions and in our heartbreak. And one day all suffering will come to an end. One day every tear will be wiped away from our eyes (Rev 7:17; 21:4).
So friends, tears will come, of necessity. But there are no wasted tears for the people of God, and one day those tears will come to an end. In the meantime we can offer the comfort to the afflicted that we ourselves have received from God in our affliction. So please don’t waste your sorrows.