As I kid I used to love being taken to the theatre by my mum. I particularly liked messing around with the opera glasses – small binoculars that allowed you to see the stage more clearly; especially if you were way back in the cheap seats as we usually were! Used properly the glasses bring the action on the stage closer, and allow you to see details that you would otherwise miss, but I used to turn them the wrong way round so that everything on the stage appeared tiny and very far away.
Over many years I’ve discovered that the experience of personal suffering can have the same effect as those opera glasses, in determining whether or not we are able to find the God of comfort that the Bible speaks of. For some the intensity of the pain that we feel is like the glasses the wrong way round – if there is a God then he seems remote, uncaring and far away. But for others the opposite is true – it is in the midst of our pain that the God of love and compassion draws near. So it is that David can begin a Psalm with a cry of despair, “How long O Lord, will you forget me for ever?” and end it with a declaration of hope, “I trust in your unfailing love… [you] have been good to me.”