George MacDonald on Suffering, Grief, and God

“I fear you will never arrive at an understanding of God so long as you cannot bring yourself to see the good that often comes as a result of pain. For there is nothing, from the lowest, weakest tone of suffering to the loftiest acme of pain, to which God does not respond. There is nothing in all the universe which does not in some way vibrate within the heart of God. No creature suffers alone; He suffers with His creatures and through it is in the process of bringing His sons and daughters through the cleansing and glorifying fires, without which the created cannot be made the very children of God, partakers of the divine nature and peace.”

It is nearly one year since my wife left this world. During that difficult year and a half battle with cancer that she went through, I kept a daily diary of how things were going. I may write more on her final week or so in the days ahead, but I have noted that things are much more difficult for me just now.

In part this is because her last week was her most difficult and painful week, as it was mine, and all who knew her. So I have been looking for some comfort especially now. The Bible is the first port of call of course, and thankfully I am in the Psalms right now, just as I was a year ago. There is obviously so much there that is of comfort, hope and healing.

And then I thought of some key authors who have suffered much and written so sweetly and powerfully of God’s grace in such dark times. I instantly thought of people like Elisabeth Elliot, or Joni Eareckson Tada, or C. S. Lewis, or Timothy Keller. So many great authors come to mind in this regard.

But I have settled here on one Christian writer that all the above authors would have drawn upon and been blessed by. I refer to George MacDonald (1824-1905). For those who know nothing about the Scottish author, poet and pastor, see this writeup about his life and ministry:

He had written so much on so many topics, but the issues of pain and suffering, grief and comfort, God and grace, were certainly covered so very often in his sermons, poems, letters and books. Here then are 22 representative quotes from him on these matters:

“Afflictions are but the shadow of His wings.”

“God wants to build you a house whereof the walls shall be goodness; you want a house whereof the walls shall be comfort. But God knows that such walls cannot be built, that that kind of stone crumbles away in the foolish workman’s hands. He would make you comfortable; but neither is that his first object, nor can it be gained without the first, which is to make you good. He loves you so much that he would infinitely rather have you good and uncomfortable, for then he could take you to his heart as his own children, than comfortable and not good, for then he could not come near you, or give you anything to be counted worth having for himself or worth giving to you.”

“The Son of God suffered unto death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like His.”

“It is with the holiest fear that we should approach the terrible fact of the sufferings of Our Lord. Let no one think that these were less because He was more. The more delicate the nature, the more alive to all that is lovely and true, lawful and right, the more does it feel the antagonism of pain, the inroad of death upon life; the more dreadful is that breach of the harmony of things whose sound is torture.”

“The will of the Father is the yoke. He would have us take, and bear also with Him. It is of this yoke that he says It is easy, of this burden, It is light. He is not saying ‘The yoke I lay upon you is easy, the burden light’; what He says is, ‘The yoke I carry is easy, the burden on My shoulders is light.’ With the garden of Gethsemane before Him, with the hour and the power of darkness waiting for Him, He declares His yoke is easy, His burden light.”

“For there is nothing, from the lowest, weakest tone of suffering to the loftiest acme of pain, to which God does not respond.”

“Dear Friend, trust in him who must love you better than you love your little children. He will be with you in your pain, and you will be able to bear it.”

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