Because of the writing and speaking I have done about the loss of two of our three children, I interact with many people who are struggling to make sense of significant loss. God has simply not lived up to who they thought he was. He has not done what they thought they could count on him to do—protect them from significant suffering in this life. And so they are confused and oftentimes angry.
When I read what Abraham Kuyper wrote in Near Unto God about what happens when we suffer, first published in 1908, I realize that doing battle with the God we’ve created in our own mind is nothing new. Though he wrote one hundred years ago, Kuyper completely captures the modern mind-set and experience:
At first what our heart feels is that we cannot square this with our God as we imagined Him, as we had dreamed Him to be. The God we had, we lose, and then it costs so much bitter conflict of soul, before refined and purified in our knowledge of God, we grasp another, and now the only true God in the place thereof . . .
We fancy ourselves the main object at stake; it is our happiness, our honor, our future and God added in. According to our idea we are the center of things, and God is there to make us happy. The Father is for the sake of the child. And God’s confessed Almightiness is solely and alone to serve our interest. This is an idea of God which is false through and through, which turns the order around and, taken in its real sense, makes self God, and God our servant . . .
Cast down by your sorrow and grief, you become suddenly aware that this great God does not measure nor direct the course of things according to your desire; that in His plan there are other motives that operate entirely outside of your preferences. Then you must submit, you must bend . . .
This is the discovery of God’s reality, of His Majesty which utterly overwhelms you, of an Almightiness which absorbs within itself you and everything you call yours. And for the first time you feel what it is to confront the living God. And then begins the new endeavor of the soul, to learn to understand this real God.
Every time I use this quote when I speak, even though it is very lengthy, invariably someone comes up to me and wants it in print. And so I am glad it is now in print in one of my favorite chapters in Be Still, My Soul: Embracing God’s Purpose and Provision in Suffering. It articulates the radical paradigm shift that must come to all those who seek to make sense of suffering—that we recognize that we are not the center of things and God’s job is not to hover nearby to assure our temporal happiness. Most significantly Kuyper articulates the gift given to every hurting person who turns toward God in his or her suffering rather than away from him—a deeper and truer knowledge of God that transforms our losses into gains.