God Shouted in My Pain

One very sad event in my life shaped me as a young adult. Here’s why I’m sharing it with you.

I don’t think you can separate a person’s philosophy or worldview beliefs from their life. Therefore I like to study the details of the lives of my favorite philosophical and theological thinkers. That’s why in my book Classic Christian Thinkers: An Introduction, I introduce key ideas and events of church history and historical theology by using the appealing vehicle of biography.

Many people have been inspired and uplifted by the stories of other Christians. Thus, my hope in sharing my story is that readers of my blog will benefit from my contemplation and may be challenged and/or encouraged by the things I write about. I have both non-Christians and Christians who regularly read my articles and I hope there is something important in this piece that will speak to both of you.

Sorrow and Grief

Up until the age of nineteen, I never had anyone close to me die. I had gone to the funerals of some distant relatives, but as a teenager, death seemed like a distant reality. Just before my birthday that year my family experienced a catastrophe. After a long battle with mental health challenges, drug addiction, and a period of incarceration, my older brother Frank took his own life. I was close to my brother and his sudden death hit me harder than anything ever had.

Years later I would teach a philosophy course entitled, “Perspectives on Death and Dying.” In my preparation for teaching that class I came across what psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Rosscalled the five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. I distinctly remember feeling shock, aloneness, depression, and what I would later come to know as estrangement. Grief was something I had never encountered and it was intense.

In reflecting about the loss of my brother, I felt guilty that I couldn’t help him in his despair. But at the time I was young and preoccupied with my own interests. I was searching for something to anchor my own life. Therefore, I had few answers to offer someone who was in such deep psychological pain. My brother’s death was hard on all the members of my family but especially so on my parents. Losing one of your children to suicide can only be described as overwhelming.

Hearing God’s Shout

Influential author C. S. Lewis said “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”1 The pain I felt at my brother’s death got my full attention. I heard God’s megaphone, so to speak. This first real encounter with suffering caused me to look even deeper for an enduring meaning to life. I wondered if meeting the right woman would make a decisive and enduring difference in my life. I also wondered if pursuing and achieving my career goals would provide sufficient fulfillment.

While my Catholic baptism remained meaningful to me, I didn’t understand Christianity in general or Catholicism in particular. I didn’t feel that I knew God personally, nor did I sense his presence. So I began reading philosophy—both Western and Eastern—in my quest for answers to life’s deepest questions. I listened to the music of the Beatles where George Harrison in particular sang about Eastern religion. I began thinking about the claims of Hinduism in general and transcendental meditation and Krishna Consciousness in particular.

But those tastes of Eastern religion left me empty and dissatisfied. In light of my brother’s passing I was intent upon looking for a genuine spiritual path that would help me make sense of life and give me what philosopher Søren Kierkegaard called “a reason to live and a reason to die.” One significant event that led me to reconsider Christianity was reading C. S. Lewis’s book Mere Christianity.

The pain of grief got my attention and caused me to look more attentively at my life and my neediness. As a wearied and burdened young man I ultimately discovered the rest and peace that Jesus Christ uniquely offers (Matthew 11:28).

A Severe Mercy

My sorrow hurt deeply but it turned out to be a severe mercy, for in my pain I heard God’s loving and forgiving voice. And God has used my pain and weakness to comfort and encourage others who struggle with suicidal thoughts or who have lost loved ones to suicide. God gloriously works good things even in our weaknesses and sorrows.

Reflections: Your Turn

Can you identify spiritual and intellectual turning points in your life?

Resource

For more about my story of searching for answers to life’s profound questions, see the introduction of my book Without a Doubt.

Endnotes

  1. C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 91.

  One thought on “God Shouted in My Pain

  1. Linda Ryan
    October 13, 2020 at 6:31 am

    I have to agree that such pain is indeed God’s megaphone. I lost my 93 year-old mother the day after my birthday in June, 2019. Then my youngest son died after a long battle of cancer the day after his 45th birthday in September the same year. On July 31, 2020, I lost my husband of 25 years after heart surgery. That heavenly megaphone is indeed blaring within my soul and spirit. All were believers so I know we’ll meet again in the not-too-distant future, but the loss is still profound. I can turn to no one but God for solace and even though He seems silent most of the time, no one else can fully comprehend my grief but He who placed it there. I don’t ask why, as I’m sure that He would have told me, or will in His own time, but I can at least rejoice in knowing we will all be reunited in His presence.

    I’ve been reading Job, and the loss of so many of my family members in a relatively short time helps me better relate to his misery than I did before, I think. It also demonstrates that bad things aren’t necessarily punishment for misdeeds but can be for a greater purpose, which we may not be able to understand in this lifetime.

    This comes at a point in my life where I’ve been questioning my faith and the foundations upon which I built it. I suppose it could have been – still could be, I suppose – a tipping point to knock it down the rest of the way, but it has actually caused me to draw nearer to God. Grappling with the empty places left in my life brings me to Him for comfort, understanding and the love that my family once provided but now no longer can.

    There have been other times in my life that have certainly been turning points for me but this one overrides most of them.

    • October 13, 2020 at 8:30 am

      Thanks, Linda.

      Sorry for your loss.

      Ken Samples

  2. Ms. D. King
    October 13, 2020 at 1:18 pm

    Greetings from Canada. I too experienced the suicide of my brother who was hard-core alcoholic and I too realized I could not save him. He died without me telling him about Christ and that there was hope for him. I realized also that it was his choice and that I wrestled with the thought of the after-life and being eternally separated. I had no quick answers or even scripture that could help and people were not well-meaning and only critical that “he would be going to hell”. The best that I could do for myself is walk through grief that lasted 5 years and now I look at it subjectively in that I loved him inspite of his addiction and that it gave me more compassion and empathy for those who are broken and trapped in alcoholism. He died in 2011.

    • October 13, 2020 at 1:49 pm

      I’m sorry for your loss, Ms. King.

      Thank you for sharing your story.

      Warm regards in Christ.

      Ken Samples

  3. David Dixon
    November 20, 2020 at 12:02 pm

    Ken,

    I am 42 years old and accepted Christ at age 24 after coming to the understanding of how lost I am in my sin and that the only remedy was The God-Man Jesus through his substitutionary atoning sacrifice. My sin is deep but His mercy is deeper. I’ve was introduced to you and your team just under two years ago after God answered my prayer for more revelation, as I was wrestling with the explanation of why I believe what I believe about historic Christianity. I became “hooked” so to speak, with how our triune God is using apologetic speakers and great minds such as yourself and many others, to help strengthen the faith of people like me. Little did I know, that God was preparing me to support my family, specifically my parents, after my brother committed suicide in Oct 2019. Your personal story continues to resonate with me. Our God has used your testimony and teaching. Due to this, I’ve been able to read two of your books (God Among Sages & 7 Truths), two of Dr Ross books, CS Lewis’s “Mere Christianity”, two books by Greg Koukl and Dr Habermas, as well as saturate myself with yours and other’s apologetic podcasts. So this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for you for continuing to answer God’s call in your life to speak to those like myself.

    • November 20, 2020 at 1:20 pm

      David:

      Greetings in Jesus’s name.

      Thank you for your encouraging words.

      I’m very pleased to hear of your growth in Christ and of your interest in the Christian apologetics enterprise. Keep up the great studies.

      Thank you for contacting me and may our Lord meet all your needs.

      Warm regards in the Triune God.

      Ken Samples

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