I Can’t Help You

Christ Suffering

Christ Suffering (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I want to help you in your time of trouble. I really do. My heart burns for people suffering, for all suffering, for myself in times of illness. I long to answer the question “Why?” I wish I knew the words that would make everything all right, that would explain why we suffer for no reason.

I feel angry, sometimes, that this illness that I have has forever altered my life, destroyed so many jobs I have had, left me so often in pain and distress, wanting to die, cutting at my own flesh. I feel so angry that a condition I neither asked for nor wanted has left me stigmatised and discriminated against, where even friends think I am too lazy to work and sponging off the state. I hate being misunderstood, but words cannot get through to those who are determined to think the worst. I hate the way my illness embarrasses me – all those things I have done, all the non-respectable things, all the things I have done that have hurt and confused others, all the little impolitenesses, all the self-centredness, the lack of love and care for others, I hate it.

I hate that there is no “why,” no easy answer for the illness that I have, and all the awful things that happen to others. I even wish it were true that all illness, all pain and all trouble is caused by our own sinfulness, that I could point the finger and say “if you stop doing x then you will be well.” But that is not the way it works, and it would be immeasurably cruel of me to turn to someone who is suffering and state that it is their fault.

Many nights I have been on my knees pleading with God to tell me why he has made me this way, why I am suffering, what have I done to deserve this and how can I make it stop? I have had no answer. Neither have I had an answer when I ask why children suffer and die, why adults are in pain, why natural disasters harm the innocent, why babies die when they could never, ever have done anything wrong. The truth is that I do not know why, I have no idea, I cannot help.

When those I care for are suffering, more than for myself, I want to bring comfort and understanding. I want to tell them why they are suffering and why it is just in the plans of my good Lord. I want to “explain the ways of God to man” as Milton put it, and give an explanation for all that they are feeling. I cannot, and it is a hard realisation to me that I cannot explain these things, for I love to understand the reasons why things happen.

When I was first told my diagnosis (quite some time after it was made) the first thing I did was buy books about bipolar and read everything I could to try to understand what my illness is, what it does to me and how I can ease it. I love to understand, and it troubles me that I have no answer for the question of why I have this illness, why a good God could let me have it.

I have some maybe-clues from the Bible. Job’s faith was tested through awful suffering. I struggle with that, for what did his family do to deserve death just so that Job could be seen to be righteous? I see that Jesus said that those who are ill and those who suffer are not more sinful than others. I see that the Bible talks about God having a plan for us, to prosper us and not to harm us, and that he turns our curses into blessings. These words are a comfort, but they do not really explain why suffering exists.

I am no theologian and I don’t believe there are easy answers to this. In fact, how dare I presume to tell someone who is suffering that there is an easy answer, there is a “just do x” that will cease their pain?

Suffering is at the heart of the Christian story – and I have no answer to the “why” of why Jesus suffered, either. I know that his suffering brought me life, reconciled me to God, but I wish there had been another way.

Sometimes I become angry with God for allowing suffering – but at a time when my suffering was most intense, I realised that the only easy answer was that there is no answer. Jesus for some reason has not given us the answer of why there is suffering. I had a rather stark choice between believing it is random chance – or deciding that I will one day understand, and trusting God that there is, in essence, a good explanation. I long for the day when we will “know fully, even as we are fully known” and things finally make sense.

When you are ill, when you are suffering, I don’t know what to do. I worry about saying or doing the wrong thing, about increasing your suffering quite by accident. I never know the words to say to comfort others. I wish I did. All I can do is be there, and tell you that I care, that I am praying, that I empathise with you. All the trite religious platitudes seem worthless in the face of true suffering – I know, in wellness, that Jesus is with me when I am ill, that he suffers too and loves me dearly. But when I am ill I don’t know that I could accept that – and I certainly don’t know whether I could accept that from a person who is not suffering as I am.

When you hurt, I can be with you; when I hurt, Jesus is with me as he is with you – although I have noticed that I am not always able to sense him. That awful, trite poem “Footprints” has a point! I suppose what I am saying in this rambling post is that it comes down to trust in the end. The belief that God is good despite all evidence to the contrary is a matter of trust, of stepping out in belief, and it is that that I chose to do ten years ago when I accepted Christ. I don’t know the answer, but I believe that God does, and that there is a reason and a purpose for everything, and that the Lord works to our good – even though I cannot show you that he does. It all comes down to trusting the Lord – and that was the hardest lesson I had to face before becoming Christian. I trust – even when I can see no reason at all to be doing so.


  1. This is exceptional.

    I’d like to request permission to cross-post this on eChurch for a wider readership, with link and acknowledgements.

    No worries if that is not acceptable, I will link in any case.

  2. Obviously I do not know the reason for your suffering. But the emotions I know only too well, and so can perhaps comment on how you might deal with them.

    Some would call the emotions depression, some sort of chemical imbalance in the brain that could be righted in some way. We are left wonderring what went wrong what is it?

    For me I realised that the problem was I had fallen into despair but did not realise it. Any small thing would tip me over the edge back into despair. I would somehow claw myself out, but then the first small thing would tip me back over the edge again.

    I didnt understand the mental processes that were occurring, it was like I was just falling off a cliff.

    When I realised that the problem was despair, I found that the solution was emotional not intellectual. I needed to hold my self back from despair, not to believe in the worst, but believe that inspite of the worst things would be ok, better.

    It was like applying a balm to a wound, it was soothing.

    I still have a tendencery to fall off that cliff, but at least now I know what is happening and I can react accordingly. Hope this helps in some way.

  3. Thanks for that Emma. I think this subject is addressed in a way in St John of the Cross’s “The Dark Night of the soul”. Are you familiar with that book?

    • I have a copy, but I’m afraid I have so far not read it! I know it is a spiritual classic, though.

      • I’ve read most of it, its very good and surprisingly pertinant, definately worth looking at.

        On a practical mental health front, I tend to see the brain very much like a muscle, if one thinks a lot about small things the mind feels strong and powerful. If one thinks a lot about important and weighty things, especially emotionally charged things, the mind feels tired and strained.

        I think this links well with the idea that we are happy in the here and now, probably because we can usually control our immediate environment and so any associated problems are small.

  4. Hi Emma

    I’m reading another book that I think has a real relevance to certain mental health issues and is certainly proving helpful to me.

    Its called “The ever transcending spirit” by Toru Sato.

    It talks about how the mind works and in particular about our relationship to others in terms of individual and group identity.

    In my experience, somewhere along the line I experienced a loss in my ability to take on a group identity. This resulted in me being unable to function properly within groups or with those I do not know well. The result of this was emotional turmoil, depression and despair. I have built up strategies to help deal with this but so far not a complete solution.

    It early days but I think the book may point the way to a solution in relationships with others. It may be worth a look.




  1. […] following is a cross-post from Believer’s Brain (with kind permission) which is a very honest cry from the soul and resonated powerfully with […]

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