George MacDonald On Suffering, Grief and God

Great comforting truths from MacDonald:

It is nearly one year since my wife left this world. During that difficult year and a half battle with cancer that she went through, I kept a daily diary of how things were going. I may write more on her final week or so in the days ahead, but I have noted that things are much more difficult for me just now.

In part this is because her last week was her most difficult and painful week, as it was mine, and all who knew her. So I have been looking for some comfort especially now. The Bible is the first port of call of course, and thankfully I am in the Psalms right now, just as I was a year ago. There is obviously so much there that is of comfort, hope and healing.

And then I thought of some key authors who have suffered much and written so sweetly and powerfully of God’s grace in such dark times. I instantly thought of people like Elisabeth Elliot, or Joni Eareckson Tada, or C. S. Lewis, or Timothy Keller. So many great authors come to mind in this regard.

But I have settled here on one Christian writer that all the above authors would have drawn upon and been blessed by. I refer to George MacDonald (1824-1905). For those who know nothing about the Scottish author, poet and pastor, see this writeup about his life and ministry:

He had written so much on so many topics, but the issues of pain and suffering, grief and comfort, God and grace, were certainly covered so very often in his sermons, poems, letters and books. Here then are 22 representative quotes from him on these matters:

“Afflictions are but the shadow of His wings.”

“God wants to build you a house whereof the walls shall be goodness; you want a house whereof the walls shall be comfort. But God knows that such walls cannot be built, that that kind of stone crumbles away in the foolish workman’s hands. He would make you comfortable; but neither is that his first object, nor can it be gained without the first, which is to make you good. He loves you so much that he would infinitely rather have you good and uncomfortable, for then he could take you to his heart as his own children, than comfortable and not good, for then he could not come near you, or give you anything to be counted worth having for himself or worth giving to you.”

“The Son of God suffered unto death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like His.”

“It is with the holiest fear that we should approach the terrible fact of the sufferings of Our Lord. Let no one think that these were less because He was more. The more delicate the nature, the more alive to all that is lovely and true, lawful and right, the more does it feel the antagonism of pain, the inroad of death upon life; the more dreadful is that breach of the harmony of things whose sound is torture.”

“The will of the Father is the yoke. He would have us take, and bear also with Him. It is of this yoke that he says It is easy, of this burden, It is light. He is not saying ‘The yoke I lay upon you is easy, the burden light’; what He says is, ‘The yoke I carry is easy, the burden on My shoulders is light.’ With the garden of Gethsemane before Him, with the hour and the power of darkness waiting for Him, He declares His yoke is easy, His burden light.”

“For there is nothing, from the lowest, weakest tone of suffering to the loftiest acme of pain, to which God does not respond.”

“Dear Friend, trust in him who must love you better than you love your little children. He will be with you in your pain, and you will be able to bear it. I think he has been with me in my pain, and never let it go beyond what I was able to bear. He knows all about it, and he would not be a perfect God if his sympathy were not perfect.”

“The face of the Son of God, who, instead of accepting the sacrifice of one of his creatures to satisfy his justice or support his dignity, gave himself utterly unto them, and therein to the Father by doing his lovely will; who suffered unto the death, not that men might not suffer, but that their suffering might be like his, and lead them up to his perfection.”

“On Good Friday Jesus died But rose again at Eastertide…..Lord, teach us to understand that your Son died to save us not from suffering but from ourselves, not from injustice…but from being unjust. He died that we might live – but live as he lives, by dying as he died who died to himself.”

Image of Unspoken Sermons (Sea Harp Timeless series): Series I, II, and III (Complete and Unabridged)
Unspoken Sermons (Sea Harp Timeless series): Series I, II, and III (Complete and Unabridged) by MacDonald, George (Author), Press, Sea Harp (Editor), Phillips, Michael (Foreword) Amazon logo

“I fear you will never arrive at an understanding of God so long as you cannot bring yourself to see the good that often comes as a result of pain. For there is nothing, from the lowest, weakest tone of suffering to the loftiest acme of pain, to which God does not respond. There is nothing in all the universe which does not in some way vibrate within the heart of God. No creature suffers alone; He suffers with His creatures and through it is in the process of bringing His sons and daughters through the cleansing and glorifying fires, without which the created cannot be made the very children of God, partakers of the divine nature and peace.”

“No words can express how much the world owes to sorrow. Most of the Psalms were born in the wilderness. Most of the Epistles were written in a prison. The greatest thoughts of the greatest thinkers have all passed through fire. The greatest poets have ‘learned in suffering what they taught in song.’ In bonds Bunyan lived the allegory that he afterwards wrote, and we may thank Bedford Jail for the Pilgrim’s Progress. Take comfort, afflicted Christian! When God is about to make pre-eminent use of a person, He put them in the fire.”

“It is not the cares of today, but the cares of tomorrow that weigh a man down. For the needs of today we have corresponding strength given. For the morrow we are told to trust. It is not ours yet.”

“It comes to this, that the suffering you see around you, hurts God more than it hurts you, or the man upon whom it falls; but he hates things that most men think little of, and will send any suffering upon them rather than have them continue indifferent to them. Men may say, ‘We don’t want suffering! we don’t want to be good!’ but God says, ‘I know my own obligations! and you shall not be contemptible wretches, if there be any resource in the Godhead.”

“As in all sweetest music, a tinge of sadness was in every note. Nor do we know how much of the pleasures even of life we owe to the intermingled sorrows. Joy cannot unfold the deepest truths, although deepest truth must be deepest joy.”

“So long as men must toss in weary fancies all the dark night, crying, ‘Would God it were morning,’ to find, it may be, when it arrives, but little comfort in the grey dawn, so long must we regard God as one to be seen or believed in–cried unto at least–across all the dreary flats of distress or dark mountains of pain, and therefore those who would help their fellows must sometimes look for him, as it were, through the eyes of those who suffer, and try to help them to think, not from ours, but from their own point of vision.”

“But, for as cold and wretched as it looks, the sun has not forsaken it. He has only drawn away from it a little, for good reasons, one of which is that we may learn that we cannot do without him.”

That is why hardships, troubles, disappointments, and all kinds of pain and suffering, are sent to so many of us. We are so full of ourselves, and feel so grand, that we should never come to know what poor creatures we are, never begin to do better, but for the knock-down blows that the loving God gives us. We do not like them, but he does not spare us for that.”

“Beauty and sadness always go together.
Nature thought Beauty too golden to go forth
Upon the earth without a meet alloy.”

“The Lord of gladness delights in the laughter of a merry heart. These wedding guests could have done without wine, surely without more wine and better wine. But the Father looks with no esteem upon a bare existence, and is ever working, even by suffering, to render life more rich and plentiful. His gifts are to the overflowing of the cup; but when the cup would overflow, he deepens its hollow, and widens its brim. Our Lord is profuse like his Father, yea, will, at his own sternest cost, be lavish to his brethren. He will give them wine indeed. But even they who know whence the good wine comes, and joyously thank the giver, shall one day cry out, like the praiseful ruler of the feast to him who gave it not, ‘Thou hast kept the good wine until now’.”

“The darkness knows neither the light nor itself; only the light knows itself and the darkness also. None but God hates evil and understands it.”

“In the hardest winter the roots are still alive in the frozen ground.”

“In the minds of children the grass grows very quickly over their buried dead. But now she learned what death meant, or rather what love had been; not, however, as an added grief: it comforted her to remember how her father had loved her; and she said her prayers the oftener, because they seemed to go somewhere near the place where her father was. She did not think of her father being where God was, but of God being where her father was.”

[1713 words]

4 Replies to “George MacDonald On Suffering, Grief and God”

  1. Bill, you have me in tears again. I do so appreciate you sharing your grief.
    I marvel at God’s presence in the deepest, darkest, loneliest of dungeons.
    Psalm 23, the psalm of life, comes alive. I am bathed in Him. Surely Goodness and loving kindess will pursue me, and I will live in the house of Yahweh forever.

  2. My 66yo wife has hadAlzheimer’s for 8 years. She can’t speak. She can’t see. She can’t communicate. Her affect is flat. Time is short now. When our kids were small we taught them a catechism. One question was Do you have a soul as well as a body? Yes, I have a soul that can never die. This has comforted me. Despite her body wasting away, she has a soul immortal and eternal. Linda is still there. She knows what it means to be loved, cared for and treasured.

    Still my grief is almost unbearable. I don’t want to live without her. Yet I know that soon the Good Shepherd will come and lift this wounded lamb to His shoulders and carry her home to the place of wholeness and healing.

    Is this what the fellowship of suffering is?

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