I don’t think that anything separates us from others, even those closest to us, as much as illness, pain, or grief. There is a loneliness that sets in that builds a wall around us. It’s an invisible barrier. We can’t get out and they can’t get in. And it boils down to this. We are alone. Isolated. Cut off in some fundamental sense from where they are, because the space where we are is miles away, miles measured in pain and sorrow.
Here, in this space, only one Person can enter, can span that distance, and it is the man of sorrows, Christ Jesus. Still it is not his acquaintance with grief or pain that travels the distance to where we are. He has, in fact, never left us nor forsaken us, since neither “height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39). No distress. No sorrow. No pain. No illness. Nothing can separate us from him who loves us.
As the psalmist says repeatedly, my Lord is “my portion” (Ps. 16:5) and makes himself a part of my identity, indivisible from any part of whatever I may be going through. A fundamental truth that runs through Scripture is the sense of our Lord belonging to us – “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (Song 6:3). The priestly tribe of Levi stands out for the countless times in the Pentateuch and Joshua it is singled out for possessing “the Lord God of Israel [as] their inheritance” (Josh. 13:33). The Apostle Peter reminds us that we are “a royal priesthood”¹ (1 Peter 2:9). Our identity is indivisible from our Lord Jesus. We are identified so closely with him that the New Testament constantly tells us that we are “in Christ Jesus,” and Paul breaks out into exultant praise and wonder at this when he writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places …” (Eph. 1:3).
We are in Christ. We are never alone. Whatever the circumstance. He is here. And he is with us.
But that’s not all. Each hard path we may be called to walk in him and with him will be transformed into good (Rom. 8:28). We cannot see it now. Yet the promise holds true in ways we won’t understand until we turn the corner into eternity. Our challenge is to be content now, to acknowledge boldly to ourselves this truth: “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).
Till then we will be satisfied, yes, satisfied, in him, our Lord and our God. How can we not? The Israelites in the wilderness had their bread or manna from heaven each day. We have been given something far better, the Man of heaven (1 Cor. 15:48); as he himself said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). For he is our strength. Our peace. Our hope.
Amy Carmichael expressed it like this:
It has been a great comfort to me to realize anew that it is God and only God we need. “Thou, O Lord, art the Thing that I long for” ((Ps. 71:5 BCP).
Yes it is. He, our Beloved, who satisfies our heart and makes us whole and strong however pressed the outward man may be.
Our God DOES satisfy. I think sometimes He has to draw us into strange experiences in order that we shall prove Him to the uttermost, for some purpose out of sight. For what is He preparing us? It is all hidden; we have only hints, such as “His servants shall serve Him” (Rev. 22:3) – where? how?
But this we do know: never a pang of disappointment or loneliness or pain (and there are many different kinds of pangs) but may be turned to minister towards a perfecting of power to serve – first here, then Otherwise.
We do not know the answers to the hard questions of life, but we know our Lord, we love Him, we trust Him, we do not wish to trouble Him with questions. Why should we?¹
Indeed, why should we? When we have him.
¹Christ Jesus is referred to in his role as the messianic king/priest in Psalm 110 and by the author of Hebrews in chapters 5, 6, & 7. So united are we in Christ that our identity as Christians as a “royal priesthood” is derived from Christ being the first priest/king, the firstborn among many.
²Amy Carmichael: Fragments that Remain (ed. Bee Trehane, Triangle, Dohnavur Fellowship, 1987).