From Revelation 16, as we read about God pouring our His wrath on this rebellious world, we see something so familiar. We see a typical response of people to pain and suffering...
"They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory."
"People gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds."
"And great hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people; and they cursed God for the plague of the hail, because the plague was so severe."
Three times in this chapter we see the response of people to the judgment of God. Indeed, here is God's wrath being poured out in power. And the response is to curse God, to blame God, to hate Him, because He has power over these things (and hence power to stop them), and yet there is no repentance. There is no love for God nor any softening. The presence of pain prompts the people to curse Him more and more.
As I heard my pastor read this section of Scripture this morning, I immediately thought of one thing: that is me. Truly, I know that I am not the recipient of God's wrath -I am the recipient of God's mercy through Jesus Christ. But in the final analysis, the problem is the same. As my life has taken so many painful twists and turns, and as it has felt like there was no end to the suffering, my heart turned cold toward God. I began to doubt God -His existence and certainly His goodness. I began to carry anger toward God in my heart... and bitterness... and self-pity... and the whole rest of the soul-decaying feelings and dispositions that gnawed away at my soul and my relationship with Him.
One thing that struck me is that it is as though the pain and suffering poured out on people expected to produce repentance. In some way, the awful pain in these things aimed to bring them to turn, to "give Him glory", but they would not. Why? How?
Well, I believe God's wrath, and the presence of evil and suffering, show us the severity of sin. They show us how much God hates it. They show us what it brings forth. And they show us how small our lives are in the midst of this grand orchestration, in the midst of this vast world and plan of God.
But still... it is one thing to fall on my face and admit to God's power and admit to how we all, because of sin, are "deserving" of judgment. Or, as a believer, that I am His son, a child He may chastise and grow as He pleases, for His glory and my good. But it is another to bury the hatchet of my anger toward Him and really embrace Him in it.
What my pastor pointed out which I failed to see initially is that the anger against such pain is right and good, but it is misplaced. For on the cross of Christ, God suffered. He suffered the suffering of the world. And He still is. As Saul of Tarsus persectured Christians, Jesus confronted him and asked "Why are you persecuting me?" The crucifixion and suffering of Christ continues on as He endures the suffering and evil of this world and as we, His body, suffer it as well.
See, when we endure all of this pain and suffering, we can cry out to God saying, "I hate it!" And He replies back, "I hate it, too! I hate it so much that I sent my Son to absorb it and take it on Himself. And He still is... I know, and I hate it, too!" And so God is not our enemy in suffering but our ally... or rather, we become His ally in it... as we endure the sufferings of Christ in this world, as we know His sufferings, and as we stand against the evil of this world in love and truth, fighting by speaking the truth in love, fighting by loving the unlovable.