(I asked my family’s permission to write this post.)
God gives grace to believers in times of pain. When we partake in the fellowship of His suffering, we can be assured the strength of Christ in our trials. Christ’s death on the cross extended grace to every person who would believe on Him. Like Christ, we should allow our pain to be a conduit of God’s grace to those around us. And perhaps my story will help others see God’s grace, love, and sovereignty even in the darkest of their valleys.
I’ve struggled for six years to put my experiences on paper. I don’t know how to explain the pain I saw my family go through. And I don’t know how applicable it will be to your life, but that’s ok. Perhaps you know someone that this article can help. Perhaps not. But I know now that there are many who understand my pain and who struggle in the same ways I do. Unfortunately, sin is common, and the heart of man is desperately evil. But grace! Grace turns the pain of a Christian into a refreshing ointment for the hurting to enjoy. Because in pain, we reflect the God who died on the cross to extend everyone a hand into His family.
It was an incredible summer. I had spent my break working at a Christian camp. I had just said “I love you” to my future wife for the first time earlier that month. And she said it back! To make my day even better, it happened to be my twentieth birthday. Walking back to my room late that evening, I received a call from my mom. My mom and I have always been very close. I could tell something was off.
“What’s wrong mom?”
Through tears, “It’s your sister…She’s pregnant.”
“With your dad.”
My world imploded. I felt numb. I didn’t cry right away. I couldn’t. Thoughts rushed into my mind. My family was in Georgia. I was in Pennsylvania. How would I get home? Would my family be safe until the police arrested my father? Where would we stay afterwards? My sister was thirteen. What was going to happen to her? My mom had no idea what my dad had been doing with their daughter, but would the authorities believe her? Would they take away the kids?
The tears came suddenly, and I couldn’t breathe. I wanted to die. How could God allow this to happen? The arguments I had heard for so long about why God would allow evil began to crumble. Doesn’t God realize how much pain is caused by the evil He allows, pain felt by the people He supposedly loves?
For the next two years, I ignored these questions. I was too busy. During that time, my father was prosecuted, my family moved to Alaska, and I returned to school. Soon after, I married the girl of my dreams, and a year later we were expecting a baby boy.
Fear and insecurity gripped my heart. I was going to be a father. The questions I had ignored for so long flooded into my mind once again. New questions caused me to doubt my potential to ever be a good dad. I fell into deep depression. For a whole year, I wrestled with God, searching for answers, questioning everything I had ever learned. I had more seizures during that year than normal, and the side-effects of the epilepsy medicine combined with my depression brought me to a place where I finally admitted to my wife that I was thinking about killing myself.
To everyone else, I looked like a Christian that was fighting through hard circumstances with a stiff upper lip. But my wife and I both knew I needed help.
I found the help I needed when I opened my Bible. I found the help I needed when I started questioning God in my prayers rather than in my mind. In the Bible and in my prayers, I discovered answers to the burning questions of my heart.
The problem of evil is not solely an intellectual problem.
Throughout history, apologists have built up systems to explain the coexistence of God’s sovereignty and the presence of evil. These are worthy endeavours for sure. They seek to answer the age-old question, “If God is good and all powerful, how can evil exist?” Many believe this to be a purely intellectual question. But what I’ve found in my own life, and in the lives of others with the same burning question, is that this just isn’t the case.
We downplay so-called “negative” emotions in Evangelical Christianity. Often Christians believe that if they have Christ, they should be happy. They are confused when they face seasons, sometimes years, of sadness or depression. In order to seem more Christlike, they put on a smile and say, “God is always good,” though in their hearts many believers wonder if God really cares for them at all. They have no outlet for their thoughts and emotions because they feel ashamed to admit that they have a problem with something that, ironically, most honest Christians have ongoing struggles with.
But God has answers to our pain, loneliness, and depression. The Bible is not just a textbook to answer theological equations. The Bible is alive. It has the answers to the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. And it has the power to respond to the darkest questions our souls might offer.
When I have encountered the question, “If God is good, how can evil exist?,” it has almost always come from a hurting heart, not from a thoughtful mind. Many believers scoff at the question, yet deep down, when our child dies, we get into a devastating crash, or our innocent sister is raped, it stabs our heart so deeply we cannot escape its grasp. It’s the very nature of the question. It is only asked because evil hurts, and through the pain we emotionally cry out, “why?”
“Why?” comes from a heart that realizes that the world isn’t the way it should be. In that way, it is in agreement with the heart of God.
But many people stop at “why?” and turn away from God. If they were to truly seek the answer to this question, instead of just considering it a complete contradiction, they might find answers that would salve their pain.
The Bible is full of Godly people asking “why?” in the middle of their pain. From Job to Jeremiah. From David to Christ Himself. You won’t read far into Scripture before you find many more examples. Even the martyrs in Revelation cried out, “How long before you will judge and avenge our blood (Re 6:10 ESV)?”
This was the first relief I found in the Bible. God didn’t just give me permission to ask why, He values it. In fact, there’s a whole thematic line in the Bible of man asking “why?” and God answering. God hears and values my questions if they come from a heart that seeks honest answers to my pain and the pain of others. I am free to ask God why He allowed my father to abuse my sister. I am free to ask God why He allowed my father to beat me, my siblings, and my mom. I am free to ask God why He allowed my father to take me out of school after the fifth grade. I am free because these questions are an outpouring of my pain, and Christ is not a “high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses. (Heb 4:15 ESV)” He was tempted like we are tempted. He was hurt like we are hurt. But He never sinned like we sin. Yet even Christ questioned God during the pain He felt on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Mt 27:46 ESV)”
Christ not only carried our sin on the cross. He also carried the effects of our sin. He carried death. He died our death so we might live eternally with Him. He carried God’s anger. He bore the full wrath of God so we don’t have to feel His consuming anger. But He also carried each and every one of our pains and afflictions. “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. (Is 53:4 ESV)” The same pains my sister felt and still feels, tortured an Almighty God. Christ walked the same valleys of grief I have gone through. Hand in hand I can walk with my Savior, my God, as we both flinch from the same beating. As I beg God to free me from my trouble, I can hear Christ say, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. (Lk 22:42 ESV)” When I am betrayed by the man who should have protected his family, I hear the pain in Jesus’ voice, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss? (Lk 22:48 ESV)” When I stumble in agony, and I know that I can’t continue living without someone else’s help, I can look to Christ and see that He also needed help carrying His cross (Lk 23:26 ESV). He is my slain Lamb.
The Slain Lamb conquers evil.
It’s Revelation that says He is the Lamb that was slain. I love Revelation. If I’m honest, I used to hate it. I still don’t understand everything about the dragons or the locusts, and I definitely don’t know the meaning of the mark of the beast. But studying Revelation was one of the final steps of my journey out of depression.
Revelation was written to persecuted Christians. Hurting Christians who had seen what evil had done and hated sin with a passion because of the pain it had caused. I hated evil with a passion, or so I thought, until I read about the judgements God had planned for evil itself. God loves the world, and His love has held back His wrath for the sin that causes His creation pain. But in Revelation, God pours out and completely empties the cup of His wrath.
I don’t understand everything in Revelation. But I understand one very important thing. I don’t hate evil like God hates evil.
Forget my father. Forget what he did to my sister. What about me? I don’t hate my sin like God hates my sin. I’m wretched. I’m wicked. And I need a Savior. What about you? How often do you find yourself complaining about the sins of others and how they cause you pain? What about your sin—sin that caused Christ so much pain that He gasped, “Why?”
God will destroy evil. Because He hates it—far more than you ever will. The only reason He hasn’t yet is because He loves people—far more than you ever will. God loves you. God loves me. God even loves my father.
Those years were full of sadness. Yet, those years were also full of God’s grace. Looking back, I don’t think I have ever experienced God’s love and mercy more clearly. The grace of God was shown through so many people who were simply willing to let God use them. I will be forever grateful to the man who drove me all the way from Pennsylvania to Georgia, the church who let my family stay in their parsonage until we found our own place, and to the beautiful couple who adopted my nephew. God used people in our lives to show us His love. I’m thankful to every person that allowed God to work through them.
Something else I learned: Christ sometimes works in everyday circumstances to bring peace into the lives of those who seek Him. I remember one of those moments that is still a treasured memory. One day I received a call from my pastor in Charlotte. He probably doesn’t even remember it, but he asked me to babysit his kids. “But,” I thought, “my dad is a rapist.” The shame of that phrase is still deafening six years later. Even now, I fight insecurities, and I know I probably always will. So, when he asked me to watch his children, my mind raced through the times I had avoided being around young kids. I was afraid of what their parents might think of me. I would get nervous and completely ignore any child that tried to hold my hand or play with me. I remember crying when he asked me to babysit. It meant the world to me that my pastor would let me watch his kids. He didn’t think of me as the son of a rapist. He saw me as a child of God.
Finally, if you are struggling with pain or depression, I would say don’t be afraid to ask “Why?” Just, don’t ask alone. Find someone who loves you. If you don’t feel like you can talk to anyone you know, fill out this form and either my wife or I will get a hold of you. We would be happy to listen and ready to pray. Pain isn’t meant to be carried alone, and we will seek to bear your burdens together, weeping with those who weep (Rom 12:15 ESV).