Who can ever know the depth of human suffering except those who are currently living within it?

In these last weeks, as a nation we have remembered the lost in World War One. Surely the poppy field of the Tower of London will remain in the public consciousness of this generation. For me my lasting image is of an elderly gentleman in uniform weeping in his wheelchair, tears tracking down his face as the last post was sounded, his friend standing alongside him gently holding his shoulder. I can never know what or who he remembered at that moment, but his tears were a mark of his suffering.

Blood-Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation at Tower of London. Creative Commons photograph by JeyHan

Blood-Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation at Tower of London. Creative Commons photograph by JeyHan

And yet, one hundred years on from the Great War, there is continued, sustained, and unimaginable suffering around the world. Our TV sets speak of wars, famines, disease, abuse, violence, and terrorism on a scale that is indescribable. I thank God that I only know the part that I do – He himself knows it all.

Psalm 137 is a suffering songsters lament, a poem of tears and sorrow, of abuse and terror, of displacement to a foreign land where fear is a way of life and life is lived, but only just.

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’
How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.
Psalm 137:1-6

Do you know someone who is singing this song? Where the pain is so great the words cling to their mouth and a song of joy is but a distant memory.

Many years ago when I trained to be a nurse in Glasgow, one of my tutors implored us to remember that no-one else can ever know the degree of pain a patient is suffering, and I thought at that time ‘no-one but God.’

Psalm 137 brings to us a person’s grief and even their anger, as the lament moves on they speak of their need for vengeance, for justice to be done. Do you know someone who is singing that song? Whose life is coloured by a grief so deep they cannot let it go, for to loosen it will overwhelm them once again with pain.

Yet think of a veteran in a field of poppies, weeping for a century of grief with the hand of his friend resting gently on his shoulder. Such is the hand of comfort and reassurance from God. When we endure the unimaginable he is there, standing alongside us bringing peace to the battered soul. Revenge is not for us, but for the One whose hand rests gently upon our shoulder. Give your pain and your sorrow to Him and know that He will avenge only those who are enemies of Him. But for you, His concern is your soul, that you may know the peace of God’s mercy, the balm of the Spirit and the hope found in eternity.


Fiona McDonald
Director of National Ministries