“I can’t claim to be inside God’s head, to know His reasons for everything that goes on. Yes, Scripture says I’m to have the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5). But that doesn’t mean He answers all my questions.” So writes Sue Nicewander Delaney in her new mini-book.
Even the big ones. When my husband Jim suffered and died, I had a million questions, and they all pretty much went unanswered. No matter how hard I cried, or how sincerely I asked, and even when I withdrew for a while, He refused to give me divine reasons for my suffering. If you recall, He pushed off Job, too. Pretty decisively (see Job 38-42). Circumstantial needs aside, my theological questions – the ones that most seriously troubled my soul – fell into two themes which I discuss in Help! My Spouse Died:
Beyond the many hard adjustments of my journey, two major questions were at the root of my spiritual struggle. The spiritual foundations of emotional suffering usually boil down to one or two categories of questions:
- Does God love me? I believe that Scripture is true. Passages like Romans 8:38–39 clearly say that God loves me, so better wording for my question might be “What kind of love is this? I don’t understand God’s kind of love.” You may be asking in other ways, such as “Why does God seem so far away?” “Has he turned his back in disgust?” “Is he angry with me?” “Has God rejected me?”
- Is God able to help me? Is God really in control of this chaos? Scriptures like Romans 8:28 claim he is able, so better wording for my question would be “Will I be allowed to see the good that he will bring from this, or will my life be nothing but hard for me from now on?” You may be asking, “Is God really able to bring good out of this heartache?” “Has evil become so strong that God can’t fix this?” “Is God really aware of the depth and complexity of my suffering?”
You will not trust God unless you believe that he loves you and is controlling the mess inside and around you, for his good purposes. If you don’t believe these truths, when people to point you to him you will push away. (p. 9)
A booklet can’t fully tackle these questions, but Help! My Spouse Died shares some of my experience as God has applied truth to my heart.
For a while in this journey, God seemed distant and my prayers seemed to hit an impenetrable wall. This unsettling side of God created desperation in my soul. My husband’s illness worsened, our situation became increasingly acute, and although I sought God I was met with… silence. It was the most devastating time of my life as a believer. What was going on? Where was God when I needed Him most?
But I persisted in the Word, I prayed, I stayed faithful in my local church. Those actions didn’t earn me God’s favor, but it was the only way that I knew how to keep going. He took His time. He let me stew a while, suffer and wallow and wonder. It took over five years, but eventually God turned on the light and showed me that He had been walking with me all along.
He showed me He had never left me, that He was still good and powerful, and that He was for me. I began to hope again in a slow process of recovery that felt like a kind of resurrection – as though I had died and God was bringing me back to life (Luke 9:23-24; Galatians 2:22).
Help! My Spouse Died shares some of the major passages that God used to reveal Himself. As the light dawned and I could perceive His presence with more than just assent, I sought Him more and more earnestly, my desperation now laced with hope, and He met me there. I saw Him again. I saw Him again!
And I began to understand what He was doing. Its substance was not earthly at all. The circumstances of life aren’t primarily for this world.
Philippians 3:9b-10: “For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!” (NLT)
“I want to suffer with [Christ],” the apostle Paul writes. Not something I naturally desire. As a widow, suffering and death release pain beyond anything I have ever known. But God is doing something important with that pain. Sharing His experience of death, I desperately learn to wrestle and find Him there. I discover profound meaning in the resurrection of hope in Him. I personally know Christ better because I have been given a deeper perspective concerning what He did for me. As I have thrashed and mourned and wept in my bewilderment, He has been revealing my dependency and challenging me to believe that He is doing something good because He is good. Even while I’m doubled over with doubt and questions, He is drawing me to Himself, to behold Him at a level I never thought possible.
As I yield to His process, He teaches me to know Him, and such knowledge is transformational. I now realize that He has made me able to weather the storms of this world with redirected focus because His greater intent is not to fix circumstances. Through it all He is beckoning me to draw near so He can create His image more and more fully in me (I Corinthians 3:18). I have an incredibly long way to go and will fully realize that goal only when I see Him face to face (I John 3:2). But here and now, my Savior faithfully walks with me on a journey designed to deepen my faith as He accomplishes His timeless purposes. For life, for death, and for everything in between.
In Shepherd Press’s mini-book Help! My Spouse Died, you can read more about my story into widowhood, exploring some of the difficult questions I had about God, my struggle with despair, and my journey back to hope. To read about experiencing sudden disability, look for Help! My Loved One Had a Stroke in January 2021.
Sue Nicewander Delaney, MABC, ACBC, BCC, has been counseling, teaching, and writing since 1994. Sue earned her MA in biblical counseling from Central Baptist Theological Seminary. She and late husband Jim were married 43 years, with two married daughters and six grandchildren. Sue married Darren Delaney in 2018.