Anglican priest and RNLI volunteer Mark Broadway introduces the themes in his new Lent book Journeying with God in the Wilderness

Where is God when he seems distant?
Where is God in suffering?

Many of these questions pop up, from time to time, both in conversation with Christians, and with friends outside of the Church. There are, of course no easy answers – and the theological answers that we do have in our box of doctrine tend to be correct, but often unhelpful. When people ask ‘where is God in suffering’, what they sometimes mean is ‘I want my suffering to stop’.

Sometimes, God steps in and intervenes in a powerful way – miracles are worth praying for. Sometimes, he points us forward, to the Day of the Lord, when every tear will be wiped away. Whichever of these it is, he always points us back to Jesus, who entered this world of pain, to suffer with us, on account of us, and for us. By his wounds, we are healed.

Part of the story of Jesus is his 40 days in the wilderness, that many Christians remember during Lent. In these trials, as with his whole life, he lives out the human experience, albeit perfectly without sin. Jesus’ time in the wilderness has stuck in cultural memory better than many other stories, partly because we understand what it is to experience a wilderness time.

Wilderness has to do with suffering, but in the Bible, there is much more to be said.

I think there are two parts that we can see. The first is the suffering, that has to do with longings which go unanswered. Longings for the ‘promised land’, if you like. Longings for the difficulties of this life to be eased as the Kingdom of God is ushered in. That’s the first element of the wilderness experience, but there is also an aspect of preparation to take hold of what is to come next. So, there’s hardship with longing for the next step, and a preparation for all that is to come.

In a sense, then, life itself is a wilderness journey. Here we long for the hereafter, but God does the work of preparing us for that here, by working in us his gift of faith. Jesus’ own 40 days causes us to think back to the 40 years of wilderness that God’s people experienced in the Book of Numbers.

I believe that as we seek to understand the wilderness times of God’s people, with their sufferings and longings, as well as their preparation to take hold of all that is to come, we can better understand our own wilderness times. That’s the heart of the work I’ve tried to begin in Journeying with God in the Wilderness.

I hope that you will join me this Lent, looking afresh at the story of God’s people in the wilderness, and seeing how the Lord is at work in your own life.

• Mark Broadway is Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) crew member and Anglican priest. Journeying with God in the wilderness is a 40-day Lent devotional with readings from the book of Numbers and the New Testament, published by SPCK at £11.99