“Christ makes [suffering] meaningful; He makes it redemptive, and otherwise, there is no hope.” —Michael Card
You likely know Michael Card as a Christian musician—writer of songs such as “El Shaddai” and “Immanuel.” But he did not always envision himself serving the Lord in this way. He went through dark times of mental and emotional anguish before emerging into the light and sharing that light with others.
Looking for a Father
So, Michael grew up watching his father invest valuable time and energy in the care of medical patients while neglecting the nurture of his family. As a result, Michael spent his early life “always looking for a father.”
The relationship Michael had with his earthly father not only affected his family life but also influenced his view of God. He assumed God was the kind of father who had more important things to worry about than one young man growing up in Tennessee—just as his earthly father was more concerned with those in medical need than with his son.
Watch Michael Card’s Testimony:
The Gift of Lament
As Michael dealt with this adversity in his early life, and as he struggled to know the true nature of the heavenly Father, God responded graciously in myriad ways. One of these ways was to point Michael to an oft-overlooked gift found in His Word: the practice of lament.
Lament, in a biblical sense, is more than feeling sad about one’s circumstances; it is crying out to God in the midst of those circumstances. Looking back, Michael expresses thankfulness that God not only allows lament, but even provides words of lament in Scripture for “these feelings that I didn’t have words for.” It is a “beautiful thing,” Michael says, to be able to “go to the lament psalms, and people like David or Asaph or Ethan [are] struggling with the same things you’re struggling with.”
Scripture does not ignore the hard realities of life and its adversities, but instead shows us that lament is a normal part of traversing the terrain of this earthly sojourn. Indeed, many of the Psalms contain expressions of lament that we are meant to imitate. Consider these verses:
How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
Why do You hide Your face
And forget our affliction and our oppression?
Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice!
It is passages like these that give voice to “feelings that [we don’t] have words for.”
But more than this provision for lament through the Psalms, Michael received an even greater comfort: the realization that the Son of God Himself lamented at the very moment when He was accomplishing the greatest redemptive act in history. As Jesus hung on the cross, he cried out (quoting a psalm of lament, no less), “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, quoting Psalm 22:1).
As Michael discovered, Christ’s suffering gives us courage in our own suffering—whatever form that might take. Ken Boa and Jenny Abel put it this way in Shaped by Suffering: “The fact that Christ, who was without sin, suffered should remove any doubt in our mind that we, too, as his followers, should also expect to suffer.”2
But not only does Christ’s suffering give us a reason to endure our own suffering; His example of lamentation shows us the way to endure suffering—not by lashing out at others or feeling sorry for ourselves, but by turning to the heavenly Father with our troubles and “entrusting [ourselves] to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23 NASB95).
It is good and right to lament when we experience hardship. Scripture even helps us do it. But we shouldn’t stop at lament. As Michael discovered, God desires to transform our suffering in a redemptive way—bringing beauty out of the ashes in our life (Isaiah 61:3).
Even though Michael’s relationship with his father proved at first to be “a blockage in terms of understanding God as [his] Father,” God used this very trial in a critical way in his life.
As Michael was dealing with his difficulties, God brought a father figure into his life in the person of New Testament professor and NIV co-translator William L. Lane. Michael’s relationship with Lane set his life on a new trajectory. Although Michael’s mother had always encouraged him in everything he did, it was Lane who first asked Michael to write a worship song and suggested he use his musical talent in lifelong service to the Lord.
“What came out of that relationship was basically everything I’ve done for the past 35 years,” Michael says.
As this relationship with Lane formed, and as Michael came to know Christ more deeply, he realized the vast difference between God’s fatherhood and what he experienced with his earthly father. “Knowing that He loves me so much,” Michael says, “[that] He’d rather die than live without me, how can that not change your life?”
What began as a deep hole in Michael’s life, God filled and used as the means to lead him into a lifelong ministry.
Satisfied in God
Michael’s story demonstrates how God often transforms our suffering by filling up the deprivation we experience in this life with Himself—and with the joy of His presence (Psalm 16:11).
When we lack something in this life—whether it be family (as in Michael’s situation) or health or comfort or any other good thing—that lack creates a longing in us for something better. God designed it this way, because we must first know our need in order to recognize God as the only one who can ultimately satisfy us.
No one would willingly choose the relational hardships Michael grew up with, nor would anyone choose the many other adversities that plague us every day in this fallen world. Nevertheless, the parts of our lives that feel most empty are often the very parts that God most uses to draw us to Himself—indeed, He uses those adversities to fill us up with His own all-sufficient grace. As Jesus Himself says, “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied” (Luke 6:21a).
When God fills our emptiness, it is not always in a temporal provision of the kind Michael experienced in his relationship with William Lane. But our satisfaction in God will undoubtedly culminate for each one of us at Christ’s return, when the beauty of God’s plan will be clear to us, and whatever emptiness we experienced on earth will find abundant fullness in Him (Psalm 73:24–26).
Knowing this, may we come to the Lord in the spirit of these lyrics by Michael Card:
Come and believe
And bring your emptiness;
Surrender your fear;
It is safe, there is comfort here
And peace from the storm.
If you’re torn
There is wholeness here.3
- Recorded in 2020
- Kenneth Boa with Jenny Abel, Shaped by Suffering: How Temporary Hardships Prepare Us for Our Eternal Home (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2020), 89. Available for purchase at various booksellers and here in our online store.
- Michael Card, “Come As You Are,” track 1 on To the Kindness of God, Covenant Artists, 2019.