“Only the Suffering God Can Help”

by | Apr 29, 2021 | 2 Those Who Mourn


In the night, only the suffering God can meet us where we are.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4).

When I reflect on my faith experience, I marvel at the consolations. Moments when the beauty and kindness of my beloved overwhelm me.  Surprises of joy in conversations with patients or happenstance events in traffic.  The run on the beach after a storm with wind still swirling, waves roaring, and light dancing, all opening my heart to the One who created all this beauty and energy flowing through me and all about as far as the eye can see.

But those blissful times can only sustain my faith along with God’s healing, creative touch at otherwise graceless times.  Moments when the sense of isolation and insignificance pull like an undertow.  Entanglements in our inhumanity to one another, blatant and subtle.  News of holocausts and systemic abuse and enslavement of great masses of people.

In such contexts, it can seem almost irresponsible to believe in a loving God.  Moreover, God does not show up on cue.  “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” Martha complained when Jesus delayed his visit after her brother took gravely ill (John 11:32).

Of course, Jesus worked a great wonder, resuscitating her brother, Lazarus, but not before suffering with Martha and the family.  The mourning of that family and community “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved” Jesus until he wept (vv.33-35).  Only after he joined their grief did life spring from the tomb (John 11:1-44).
In his prison cell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer scribbled, “Only the suffering God can help.” With my eyes and heart closed to God’s suffering with me, I could not receive blessings amid joy.

At the foot of the cross, his executioner looked up and exclaimed, “Surely this man was God’s Son!” (Mark 15:39)  At a moment that should give atheists every reason to declare God dead, scales fall from the eyes, and we see a wonder we could not otherwise.

In my most anguished grief, I prayed many prayers that seemed to bounce off the ceiling.  I heard much mocking silence.  It made complete sense to give up.
But I could not.  Perhaps past consolations of love and natural beauty helped.  Or after much meditation upon them in better times, words of scripture poured into my broken heart.  Or faith became too habitual to let go.  All that and more may apply.  But if so, they serve only as mechanisms for the loving work of the Holy Spirit who, amid the groaning of all creation, intercedes for fools like me with sighs too deep for words (Romans 8:18-26).

Whenever you suffer grief, the worst pain may come from the silence of God.  Yet, even as God moves toward redeeming the world, God takes in all pain.  God weeps.  And God travels your way to meet you in life-giving power at the appointed time.  Keep praying, and wait for God.   The scales will fall from your eyes, and you will know.

Related Posts

Compassion Spills From God’s Broken Heart
Christmas: When God Meets Us Where We Are


  1. jerie artz

    Wonderful meditation – reading it with a dear friend struggling with cancer on my heart and in my prayers. sent it to her.

    • J. Marshall Jenkins

      Thank you so much for using the post in caring for your friend! I will pray for her.

  2. K Lee

    Beautiful meditation – thank you! I am looking for the quote, “Only the Suffering God can Help” – do you know where I might find the original source / citation for this (I know folks say it was scribbled on scraps of paper, but wondering where I can responsibly cite this for an essay I’m writing…) (I’m a spirituality professor…) Thanks!

    • J. Marshall Jenkins

      I am away from home, so I don’t have my copy of Letters and Papers from Prison with me. But my online search pulled up this citation:Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Letters and Papers from Prison. Ed. E. Bethge, trans. R. H. Fuller (4th) ed., 1971. P. 361 – Letter of 16.7.44. As quoted by Moltmann, P. 54.


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