2 Corinthians 1: 8–9: For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.
I was in a staff meeting at my counseling practice when my wife called. I knew she was at the doctor getting an ultrasound. It was our 12-week appointment for our second child.
When I answered the call, my wife’s sobbing caused my heart to drop into my stomach. Our baby had no heartbeat or movement. He was dead.
We were in shock. We were blindsided. We had no experience with such a loss or how to make sense of the pain. We were comforted by our family and by the truths from God’s word and God’s people. We trusted that God must be at work for good through this pain, even though we couldn’t see how.
Over the next six years we continued trying to conceive, pursued fertility treatment, and eventually surrendered our inability to conceive and have additional children into God’s hands. In the meantime, God had been moving in our hearts to pursue adoption. In the summer of 2014, we formally committed to adoption and started the process of identifying an agency.
Six weeks later, we were shocked to find out we were pregnant. We hadn’t conceived in six years! This news was hard to believe, we were both happy and yet heavy with the hurt of opening ourselves to hope. If we had lost one child, we could lose another. Jane got an appointment as quick as she could to see the doctor to help her body hold on to that baby and keep him alive. Our baby was six weeks along.
Over the next two weeks, I spent most of my time anguishing in prayer surrendering this child to the Lord. I had a sense our child would not live. I didn’t want to believe we were pregnant, and I didn’t want to hope he would live either because I didn’t want to hurt so deeply again. I wanted to harden myself, numb myself to avoid the pain, but my heart was breaking already. My instinct was to protect myself.
Yet, I found God leading me to trust Him with my pain and to go through the pain. Though it hurt to hope, though it was vulnerable to enjoy that we could at least conceive a precious life once more, He would hold me together. Still these questions were gnawing at my soul. What good was it for us to conceive only to lose a child once again? What was the good that God was working if we could not hold our child in our hearts let alone our arms? I couldn’t just blindly accept this cliché anymore.
Instead of clinching my fists muscling through the pain with seemingly stoic strength, I opened my hands to God to feel, to be thankful for our conception, to hope for another child of our own and yet not expect things to go my way. I chose in faith to depend on God to raise me from the dead. I opened my heart to hurt and grieve lost hopes and empty arms, and in my suffering, I met my Suffering Savior. At eight weeks we lost our baby to miscarriage, but I found Jesus there and began to know Him in ways I could not otherwise encounter the crucified God and the resurrected King.
This is the path of the cross, to go through suffering in order to experience resurrection joy. Jesus came to enter into our suffering and our just deserved punishment for sin, which is the cause of suffering in this world. Out of love, He entered into our sin. He suffered and was truly forsaken by God that we might have the hope of a New Creation where there is no suffering or tears, only joy unending.
What is the good that God could be working in conceiving this child if my child will only taken? It is instinctive for us to seek for meaning in our suffering, to make sense of God’s goodness and power in hurt and horrible things in this world.
Oftentimes when we try to makes sense of the truth that God is working all things for good, our tendency is to impose our own meaning of “good” onto God. We can have a preconceived agenda that the good God is doing equates to tangible outcomes, “blessings” that mean my situation or personal condition will improve.
God started shifting my attention to the fact the He, God, is the good. God does work miracles and tangible blessings, but if we are honest with ourselves, that is not always the case. If we are to understand and experience the truth of God working for good in all things, we must realize the good in our suffering is always knowing the suffering Savior himself and the groaning Spirit that suffers with us and in us. Immanuel, God with us.
We profoundly encounter Jesus and know Him in the “My God, my God why have you forsaken me” moments of life (Matt 27:46). There is goodness in the fact that God knows me in my suffering, He shares in it with me, and there is goodness in me knowing Christ in the depths of His suffering. It’s only in depending on and knowing Jesus in the depths of suffering that we can truly experience the heights of His resurrection hope and power.
Jesus told us, “In this life you will experience suffering, but take heart, I have overcome the world (John 16:33).” Friends, our circumstances may not turn out good, but in all our situations, especially in suffering, God is the good!
Scott Barber is senior pastor at Grace Community Church in Worthington.