When God’s faithfulness is painful

faithfulness god

“We’d like to announce the birth of our healthy baby. God is so faithful.” You may have heard God’s faithfulness talked about like this.

Or you may have seen it in an Instagram photo of a happy couple on their honeymoon with #blessed in the caption. You’ve just bought a house, and put up a photo with, “God is good!” Or you tell your friends, “God is so faithful” when you receive your dream job.

But I’ve noticed something about how we speak about God’s faithfulness. Whether it’s at graduations, new jobs, engagements, marriages, births – when we say, “God is faithful,” it’s almost always when good things happen to us.

It’s good to acknowledge God for these things. But what about the times when God doesn’t give us what we want?

Think about the number of people who feel like their life isn’t Instagram-beautiful or “blessed”:

  • People who want relief from pain or discomfort
  • Families who are grieving a loss
  • A single person who feels forgotten by the church
  • A married person who is in an unhappy marriage
  • The couples who long to have children but can’t
  • The Christian who is losing their faith
  • A person who suffers abuse
  • A teenager who is dealing with an addiction
  • A parent who loses a child

Is God not being faithful in these situations? How do we respond when God’s faithfulness is painful?

Getting brutally honest with God

Many of us would say that your first response to pain should be to remember how good God is and how everything happens in his control, etc. We’ll get to that. But as a first response, I don’t think that works for me, and many others.

My first response, I think, needs to be honesty with God in how I’m feeling.

Often, we as Christians want to put a neat Bible verse on our pain and push it down under a smile.

Sometimes, I can even act that way to God himself. I can treat God like a teacher I’m trying to be a model student for, instead of a father who knows my pain.

I repeat sayings like, “God doesn’t give you what you want. He gives you what you need,” even when in my pain those platitudes make me want to throw something. I pray politely about how I know he works everything for good, but inwardly, I’m fuming and heartbroken.

But this isn’t what we see in the Bible. In Psalms, you get to see that David has a lot of feelings – and they include anger and sadness. What I notice from these psalms is that David doesn’t shy away from acknowledging how he’s feeling. But after, he usually ends by praising God:

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?

… But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me. (Psalm 13:1-6)

David’s relationship with God was deep enough to endure his questions and pain about what was happening. Like any relationship, our relationship with God thrives on honesty and communication. And like any relationship, there will be times when we feel anger and resentment toward God, or that we don’t want to have him if this is what he’s giving us.

I may sound glib. My intention isn’t to say that pain is something we can solve easily by going to God. Not at all. But I firmly believe we need to talk honestly to God about what’s happening with us. That includes the parts that hurt, and we may need to bring the same things to him again and again.

If you’re in a time of hurt, you may want to stay at this place for awhile. Keep coming back to God and telling him what’s in your heart. Gather people around you who can comfort you and show you God is still there. We see his faithfulness in action by giving him a chance to show it.

His ways are not my ways

When God keeps what we desperately want from us, we can wonder about God’s faithfulness to us. Did we sin? What’s wrong with us? Maybe we’re thinking about it the wrong way.

Even one of the giants of the New Testament, Paul, faced chronic suffering. He speaks about enduring a “thorn in his flesh”, and he asked God to take it away numerous times. Why not? Having the pain taken away would help him minister more for God, wouldn’t it? You would think that God would oblige.

Ultimately, God didn’t do that. Paul expresses God’s response in what I think is one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible:

And he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:8)

Paul could have had a different, easier life if God had given him what he wanted. But staggeringly, Paul realised over time that God’s faithfulness was shown because of Paul’s weaknesses, trials and difficulties.

This is a horribly difficult concept to understand when I’m feeling forgotten by God. I’ve suffered heartbreak, job loss, mental illness and pain in my life. But the times that I reached out to God for help, I can see in living colour how God has shown up. Even if I can only see it in retrospect.

His faithfulness is shown when I depend on him fully. I just needed to reach out to him.

Faithful through the worst

“But even if he doesn’t, God is still good.” I’ve pinned this quote to the wall of my room.

It’s a paraphrase of a quote from the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Before Nebuchadnezzar throws them into the furnace, the men have one more chance to recant and worship the idol that the king has set up.

The men respond:

If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. (Daniel 3:17-18)

“Even if he does not.” They believe that God can save them. But even if he doesn’t, they will keep their own faithfulness to God. God is faithful, whatever the outcome.

And they know he is still good, whatever may happen. Even unto death.

I have this quotation pinned to the wall of my room because I want to remind myself to say, “Even if he does not…” about things that are important to me in my life.

“Even if he does not… keep my family together.”

“Even if he does not… give me a partner.”

“Even if he does not… grant me children.”

“Even if he does not… save my marriage.”

“Even if he does not… take this illness away from me.”

This is not easy. Even thinking that I could lose someone or something important to me is terrifying. It’s painful. It’s confronting. I can guarantee my first instinct would be anger, to give God the cold shoulder, and think he’s withholding happiness from me.

The truth is, the Creator of the Universe doesn’t guarantee that my life will be easy. But he has promised these things:

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” David says in Psalm 23. He’s saying I have a God whose faithfulness is like a shepherd caring for his sheep. I have what I need.

Maybe not all my dreams will be fulfilled on earth. I might walk through many dark valleys. But I know in my heart that I won’t be alone. I don’t love God because he gives me everything I want in this life. I love God because he gives me himself.