Suffering & Grief: Finding Spiritual Consolation in Divine Comfort

Spiritual Suffering

The LORD hears those who cry out, and he delivers them from all their distress. The LORD is close to the brokenhearted, and he delivers those whose spirit has been crushed. A righteous person will have many troubles, but the LORD will deliver him from them all.  [Psalm 34:17-19].

When a tragedy or calamity afflicts us, we may experience it from a human, philosophical, intellectual perspective that offers little consolation or comfort. Or, we can choose to a Divine, scriptural, spiritual attitude that brings hope and encouragement.

The sorest afflictions never appear intolerable, except when we see them in the wrong light: when we see them in the hand of God, Who dispenses them; when we know that it is our loving Father who abases and distresses us; our sufferings will lose their bitterness and become even a matter of consolation. [Brother Lawrence].

To choose to see reality from the limited scope of human perception is to remain groping for answers, bewildered by the variety of heartrending events that cause us pain and produce suffering. To turn to God with faith and hope is to find solace and relief.

But [as for myself,] patience in adversity is most goodly [in the sight of God]; and it is to God [alone] that I pray to give me strength to bear the misfortune which you have described to me. [Quran 12:18].

Purification by Suffering

Pain comes to the believer as part of faith. Some form of deprivation, suffering or loss is always present in our spiritual life. They measure of our beliefs and magnify our dependence of Divine support.

In abstinence we are purified. Our sacrifices add worth to our charity. Our integrity becomes immovable only when challenged. Our patience is tried by pain and grief. Compassion relies on sufferings or misfortunes. Humility demands self-effacement and restraint.

Peace does not dwell in outward things, but within the soul; we may preserve it in the midst of bitterest pain, if our will remains firm and submissive. Peace in this life springs from acquiescence to, not in exemption from, suffering.  [Francois Fenelon, Selections from the writings of Fenelon, p. 247].

Rejection, ridicule and prejudice can deeply wound us psychologically. Our sins, doubts and weakness leave us permanently scared by guilt and remorse. But, it is the pain of being removed from one’s Lord that is most unbearable.

We cannot understand the ways of God, but when tragedy strikes we can pray, and ask for mercy and guidance. We pray that no further grief or suffering afflicts us. We ask for mercy knowing we are guilty of countless sins of omission and commission. And, pray for Divine guidance to find safety and salvation.

Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word. [Psalm 119:67].

Divine Reality has built-in consolation where we can ease our anxiety and grief, where we can alleviate pain and suffering.

It is good for us to have trials and troubles at times, for they often remind us that we are on probation and ought not to hope in any worldly thing. It is good for us sometimes to suffer contradiction, to be misjudged by men even though we do well and mean well. These things help us to be humble and shield us from vainglory. When to all outward appearances men give us no credit, when they do not think well of us, then we are more inclined to seek God Who sees our hearts. Therefore, a man ought to root himself so firmly in God that he will not need the consolations of men. [Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Ch 12].

Spiritual Suffering

Spiritual pain arises when our soul stumbles and falls into jagged thoughts that pierce our fragile shell, when emotional crises explode within our heart. Sometimes the collision shatters our cherished traditions, or the explosion destroys our sacred beliefs, sending us into spiritual shock where nothing makes sense.

Our entire psychological balance is upended, leaving us staggering, in critical condition, unable to respond to the suffering of life or understand the meaning of death.

And most certainly shall We try you by means of danger, and hunger, and loss of worldly goods, of lives and of [labour’s] fruits. But give glad tidings unto those who are patient in adversity who, when calamity befalls them, say, “Verily, unto God do we belong and, verily, unto Him we shall return.”  [Quran 2:155-156].

As our mind revolves around recurring grief or anxiety, our thoughts continually seek relief, but find none. Without the comfort of the Divine Presence in our lives, we are flung into despair, with no true remedy, no ultimate comfort possible.

Nothing will shake a man — or at any rate a man like me — out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself. [C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, pp. 49-50].

What greater spiritual pain exists than to feel absent from God’s grace? When we find no strength, peace or hope in our faith, the spiritual immunity that shielded us from worldly, secular threats fails us, turning grief into hopeless desperation.

You ask for consolation; but you do not perceive that you have been led to the brink of the fountain, and refuse to drink. Peace and consolation are only to be found in simple obedience. Be faithful in obeying without reference to your scruples, and you will soon find that the rivers of living water will flow according to the promise. You will receive according to the measure of your faith; much, if you believe much; nothing, if you believe nothing and continue to give ear to your empty imaginations. [François de Fénelon, Spiritual Progress].

Enduring Suffering

Our ability to understand and endure suffering begins with patience. A mind convinced that suffering is temporal and will cease to exist — a mind at peace with its faith — administers its beliefs as a spiritual placebo.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. [James 1:2-3 (NKJV) ].

Relief, comfort, and even joy, can flow from spiritual perseverance. When we faithfully pursue our devotional life, feeling satisfaction from persisting in faith, convinced of the Divine goal, we find the promised Divine comfort.

When I am sore beset, I seek some quiet place, Some lonely room or barren windswept hill, And there in silence wait apart until I see again the smile upon God’s face; Until His presence floods me like the dawn, And I can hear His whispered, Peace, be still, And know the strength to do His will. I turn to take my load and find it gone. [Antoinette Goetschius].

Our faith, buttressed by perseverance and prayer, is a soothing balm for our spiritual wounds. God does not burden any of us with more than we are well able to bear.

. . . we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. [Romans 5:3-5 (NIV)].

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