Written By Abigail Ellington, USA
For years, I had struggled with health issues. Plagued by auto-immune problems, anxiety, and OCD, I had to accept physical limitations and challenges with schoolwork, but I could not make peace with the mental disruption and chaos in my life.
My mind was constantly in overdrive, full of overwhelming anxiety, inappropriate thoughts, and interfering noise. I almost never felt calm. While I managed to act composed in public, my thoughts were always raging.
The strain of combating this unceasing, vicious stream of intrusive thoughts left me unable to deal with other life challenges or interact well with family members. There were good moments, but overall, when I wasn’t sobbing on the floor, I was tense, irritable, and on the verge of exploding.
Why, God, why?
I could present nuanced and detailed arguments for why God lets His children suffer. I knew that evil entered the world because of sin, that God ultimately defeated it through the cross, and that He allows suffering in our lives for our growth and His ultimate glory. I also trusted that one day, God would welcome His children into a kingdom with no more tears.
However, as it became increasingly difficult to function each day, this knowledge no longer gave me peace. Captive to my unwanted thoughts and irritable behavior, I grew increasingly resentful.
Through my suffering, God produced greater compassion, humility, and gospel dependence in my life, and I knew that I should rejoice. But couldn’t God have accomplished the same good through a litany of other—less painful, more acceptable—circumstances? If I had to be sick and crazy just so that I would see my helplessness apart from Christ and worship Him, wasn’t God twisted and terrible?
I couldn’t hate God, so I hated myself, chasing these thoughts in circles with no hope of resolution.
Why can’t I stop?
My physical problems were morally neutral, but I equated my wild thoughts with sin and felt incredibly guilty. My anxiety, anger at God, critical thoughts about others, hate-filled emotions, and the stream of inappropriate, unwanted thoughts were unacceptable. But no matter how hard I fought to preempt or discard negative thoughts and feelings, I could never stem the tide.
Over time, I began to understand that neurological issues were the root of my conflict and disorder. This realization comforted me, but even though I did not feel responsible for the thoughts entering my head, I still had to fight them. I engaged in a constant tug-of-war between wanting to pardon myself and wallowing in guilt. Much of my anguish stemmed from the fear that every awful thought I had was documented, and that I would face that record on Judgment Day. As I worried about how God would measure my extenuating circumstances, I lost sight of the fact that my record was nailed to the cross (Col. 2:13-14).
As I heard my pastor preach each week, studied Scripture, and engaged in Christian community, God used these ordinary means of grace to deepen my belief in the gospel and expand my understanding of its power. I saw that my sin and brokenness are both dead and that I don’t have to obsess over my guilt or innocence, because I am free from sin and alive in Christ. How can I rail against God for allowing me to suffer when He has saved me from my sin and credited Christ’s righteousness to me? How can I be angry with Him when His Son has taken the crushing weight of sin and death for me?
Over time, my life circumstances improved. I still struggle with my health, but I no longer deal with the type of intrusive thoughts that made my life miserable. I received the resolution that I wanted and have seen my growth through suffering. But for a long time after, I continued feeling that God was unjust. More often than not, my grateful reflection over spiritual growth gave way to yet another internal argument over whether or not there was any justification for what God had required me to endure.
I can neither understand nor explain why God designed my life the way He did, but I know that He is good, that He is powerful, and that He is loving. Because of what I have suffered, I know that my faith is real. God took away what I valued and depended upon most—the self-righteous morality and dignity that I had worked so hard to maintain—and drew me nearer to Him.
My happy ending didn’t arrive when I experienced relief or got an explanation. Rather, resolution came when I grew to love my Savior more than my desire to dictate my own life. Charles Spurgeon, the English preacher, once said, “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.” I have used this quote to reframe my perspective, accepting that God calls me to something greater than my ideas of what goodness is: He calls me to Himself. My only boast is Christ, not what good I’ve done or what sin I’ve fought victoriously against. I will accept the goodness and value of whatever leads me to cling to God.